Destiny has – for the right or wrong reasons – been on the receiving end of a lot of vitriol since its release in September 2014. So much so that there’s almost a solid divide between those that seem to hate the game outright and those who love it. On release, the game received a tepid response from critics (undeservedly, in my opinion), who claimed it was somewhat mediocre. This may or may not have been due to overhyping by Bungie, the developers behind Destiny – the expectations for the game were huge given their FPS pedigree (they created the Halo series), and the massive budget that was bandied about.
Destiny is about to enter its second year with the release of The Taken King this September, so I thought I’d take a look at Destiny – what is it exactly, and why do people seem to hate it so much? More importantly, though, I’m hoping to help potential new players understand the game better, as its biggest flaw is in its inability to explain itself or its mechanics.
So… what is it?
At its most simple, Destiny is a First-Person Shooter – players control one of three character builds, each with their own active and passive bonuses (which are unlocked over time). They then take these “Guardians” out to battle against 4 different enemy types across 4 expansive map variants, each of which could be considered a “world” in their own right. In many ways, the game can also be described as an RPG, in that players level up as a result of their actions in the world, and can then apply certain buffs that suit their personal gameplay style.
Where Destiny differs from other FPS titles is a matter of much debate – is it an MMO, or (as the developers prefer to say) is it really a persistent shared-world environment? Some would say that both terms describe the same thing, although I do understand that Destiny differs from standard MMOs in several ways, hence Bungie’s desire to call it something else.
So how is it like an MMO? Well, other players inhabit the same environment, for one thing, and in many instances, players can team up to defeat certain enemies or tackle certain challenges. There are buttons to emote (dance or wave, for example), and hub environments where players can lounge about while they make changes to improve their Guardian. Voice chat can be between those in the vicinity, those in your current “Fireteam” (a group of 1-6 players), or those in a private party – or, of course, you can choose to turn it off completely. Many would argue that simply having multiple players inhabiting the same permanently online world is what makes Destiny an MMO. It’s a solid point.
However, most MMOs allow players to choose the server that they connect to, so that they can be sure to be playing within the same world as their friends – that way, they can go to the usual meet-up spots to catch up. Destiny doesn’t allow for this – while there are clearly multiple servers in use, there is no way to select a server. This is probably because there is limited space which fills up rather quickly – so I don’t think “massively multiplayer” applies as a result. The only way to ensure that you and a friend are online together is to create a fireteam – which is simple enough, but most co-op game modes only allow for 3 individuals per fireteam, and this kind of restricts a player’s ability to play with a bunch of friends.
This is true for all modes, except raids – the end-game co-op missions that are built for 6 players. They don’t allow for matchmaking, which means you must have 6 Destiny friends all at the right level and available at the same time in order to tackle them. It’s this disconnect between restricting social play for standard 3-player game modes and enforcing non-matchmade 6-player fireteams for raids that is one of Destiny‘s greatest bugbears.
Essentially, though, Destiny is a platform, and as such, it’s always evolving. Since the initial release, Bungie has released two pieces of downloadable content (DLC) that have significantly expanded on the core game. Based on what we are hearing about The Taken King, even bigger changes are about to occur (see last week’s news article for more info)… Many players are upset about this, but as a platform, it should really be expected – perhaps even embraced. Unfortunately, though, too many players are still treating the game like yet another story-based FPS… Which is unfair.
What are the gametypes?
Much like other shooters, the game is segregated into both PvE (story and co-op missions) and PvP (competitive multiplayer environment, known in game as the Crucible). All missions within these game types play out across maps built on Earth, Moon, Mars, and Venus, which were all part of the original (“vanilla”) Destiny – although expanded on slightly in the two DLC releases. It is understood that at least two new locations are to be released with The Taken King, but details are scarce at this stage, as they weren’t covered in the year 2 reveal.
Within PvE, there are 4 main mission types: Story, Patrol, Strike, and Raid. These are targeted at specific levels, but this can be changed for increased challenge. An additional mode, the Prison of Elders, was added with the “House of Wolves” expansion earlier this year.
These can be played either solo or with a fireteam. Fireteams are predominantly friends only (no match-making), but of course, you can always do an impromptu team-up with other players that you come across in the “shared-world” environment. These missions follow a clear, but somewhat linear path through the environment.
Again, primarily a solo experience that can be played with others, Patrols give players free rein over the environment, with missions that can be taken up on demand. These might be as simple as “kill a certain number of enemies” or “go to an area to survey the environment” or variations of such. Occasionally, a Public Event will occur – essentially a very dense battle against a number of enemies in a short period of time. Attendance in these events is proximity based, and often you will find that many players inhabiting the environment will rush to take part in an attempt to reap some rewards.
These are essentially mini raids – complex story missions, culminating in a boss fight, that require a fireteam due to their increased difficulty. For players with no friends in their fireteam, matchmaking kicks in to match players with others looking to complete the Strike. Interestingly, over the 30 or so minutes it takes to complete the mission, I’ve found that a sense of faux camaraderie sets in, with players utilising dance and wave emotes to celebrate completion.
Raids are what all Destiny players should ideally be aspiring to, but the complex levelling system (which we’ll get to) and the requirement for 6-player fireteams (not to mention the lack of matchmaking) means Bungie haven’t made it an easy prospect. This is quite apparent with, apparently, less than 20% of Destiny players ever even attempting a single Raid. The first Raid, Vault of Glass, shipped with vanilla Destiny and includes some light team-based puzzle solving, as well as rather unrelenting high-level enemies. I can understand exactly why Bungie feels this is best played by teams that know each other, but it’s still highly contentious. The newest Raid, Crota’s End, added with the first DLC “The Dark Below”, is more of a shooting gallery – and as such has been completed by gifted individuals and frequently by teams of less than 6 players. I would expect the Year 2 Raid(s) to reflect more of the former as a result.
Prison of Elders
Essentially a “Horde” or “Firefight” mode, where teams of 3 players take on waves of enemies over a set number of levels with increasing difficulty, the Prison of Elders culminates in not only a Boss Fight, but a treasure room where rare items can be found. Prison of Eldars offers four mission varieties based on level – the level 28 offering open to matchmaking, with levels 32, 34, and 35 Prison of Elders locked to player fireteams only. These higher-level modes also offer bigger and better rewards, which we’ll discuss a little later…
Within PvP, there are 8 modes on offer:
- Control: 6-on-6 King of the Hill with multiple control points
- Clash: essentially 6-on-6 Team Deathmatch
- Rumble: Deathmatch
- Skirmish: 3-on-3 Team Deathmatch with the ability to revive teammates
- Combined Arms: larger scale with vehicles
- Salvage: 3-on-3 mode where teams fight to salvage probes dropped on the map
- Iron Banner: Team Deathmatch with balancing disabled
- Trials of Osiris: 3-on-3 Team Deathmatch with no matchmaking, where each player has only one life per round. Game plays out as best of 9 rounds
The first four of these are standard game modes, with the others offered periodically. Trials of Osiris, for example, is available on weekends in the States (Sat-Mon in Australia), and was an upgrade released with the latest DLC, “House of Wolves.” In all modes except Iron Banner and Trials of Osiris, the game employs level balancing, which negates the effects of both player level and weapon upgrades.
While the multiplayer modes on offer in the Crucible are fairly standard, they are quite solid on their own and play extremely well. The criticism levelled by most players is that the offerings are slim, and that there is no real need for team play in many modes on offer. That may or may not be addressed with The Taken King in September – we are aware of two or three new modes coming to Crucible, and this might offer MP fans the experience they are looking for.
There are a number of very valid issues that players have raised with the game, and I’ll try to cover as many as I can here.
The biggest complaint, and one that has persisted since the game was first released, is that Destiny was overhyped, and did not meet expectations. This was mainly due to the fact that there were very few “end game” tasks, and the Crucible initially only had 4 game modes on offer. As a platform, it has significantly expanded since release, so much so that personally I would suggest that now would be a great time to jump on board (or perhaps once The Taken King releases, to avoid sudden changes). There is still a lot of repetition in the late game (playing the same Strikes and Raids over and over again), but this is made more interesting/fun with the insane difficulty forcing you to try out new strategies and weapon types – but this does not appeal to everybody.
Story has been a concern, as initially there was minimal story development in game, with much of the background being shared via collectible “Grimoire” cards – which could only be accessed via the website or companion app. Understandably, not many players actually went to this extreme in order to follow the lore. On top of this, many consider the story that does exist to be examples of lazy writing – one famous and commonly referenced example being that a major story component was brushed off in the middle of explanation as there wasn’t even enough “time to explain why [she had] no time to explain”. While this is true of vanilla Destiny, there was more story development as the later DLC packs released – particularly in the latest one – “The House of Wolves”.
Grind and levelling is a major component of discussion – and given this is an RPG, it’s somewhat to be expected. However, the game (still) doesn’t hold your hand, and offers very minimal explanation as to how a player should level up once they hit the XP level cap of 20. After level 20, players use an ambiguous “Light Level” that is assigned to armour in order to increase their overall level – the current cap is 34. At this same juncture, XP (which is still awarded for kills and completion of bounties, etc.) is now used to upgrade weapons and armour, shifting the focus of levelling from the player to their equipment. While many find this interesting, it is confusing and lacks clear explanation within the game itself. This will be changing with The Taken King, and we’ll be keen to see how the new levelling system feels in practice.
Another major concern is that bosses tend to be bullet sponges, and that the game’s hook is solely based around this. As an extension, there has been criticism that the entire game is much the same – with the exception of raids. While this is true to some degree (most story missions and strikes follow the same “head to point A, kill loads of enemies, head to point B, do the same, etc.” format), there has been some variety in newer strikes, and there is an indication from recent interviews that more “raid-like” elements will be added to strikes in The Taken King.
Loot drops will always be a cause for concern in a game of this type, and there have been some headaches in the 12 months since release. During play, enemies will drop what are referred to as “engrams” – small balls of coloured light that contain a weapon or armour piece. There are different levels of value that are assigned – white are common, green are uncommon, blue are rare, purple are legendary, and yellow are exotic (although I’ve never seen a yellow engram, so I’m unsure if they even exist). Often the engram need to be unencrypted at the Tower hub in order to see what has been collected (not unlike the identify scroll in games like Diablo). Initially, engrams would occasionally be encrypted to a lower value than they seemed (a rare blue engram may become a green uncommon weapon on unencryption), which was wholly dissatisfying. This has since been fixed – an engram will only unencrypt at its coloured value or (randomly) one level higher, but a remaining concern is that sometimes these unencrypt as an item that the player may already have, or for a different class. Again, Bungie have announced that this will be addressed in September’s update.
These sum up what I consider to be the main valid concerns – underdeveloped and poorly implemented story, repetition of game modes in the end game, lengthy grind and lack of detail around how to achieve high level, somewhat repetitive gameplay loops, and unsatisfying loot drops. There has been some improvement in all of these areas, but for the most part they all still require some attention, so I’m keen to see how the Year 2 changes people’s opinions, if at all. That said, I don’t expect “the perfect game” in Year 2. There will always be room for improvement.
The additional concerns that many players have with the game are somewhat related to how Bungie treats the players. One such example is around the fact that the “Legendary Edition” of The Taken King comes not only with the expansion content (as well as the collectible items), but with everything else as well. This means that long-time players who want to collect the collectible “Strange Coin” that comes with the physical edition (and let’s face it – it’ll pretty much only be long-term players that will want to collect this) have to fork out money for game components that they already own.
Further, there are many vocal complaints in regards to the pricing of these collected editions (which contain vanilla Destiny, plus the two year one DLC and The Taken King) – these are being priced as a standard full-priced game, compared to the amount that players that have played since day one have spent (which is almost double). While I can appreciate the argument – namely, that players that bought the game upfront have paid more over time, I can’t personally agree, as these players have come out of it with fully levelled characters, a large collection of weapons and armour, and a hell of a lot of experience. It’s part of being an early adopter.
Lastly, there are several concerns around how Bungie is treating Year 1 content. With the release of The Taken King, Bungie will make changes to existing weapons, making some of the most sought-after weapons in the game less powerful in the process. In addition, there will be Year 2 content that will be more powerful than Year 1 content, and some individuals see this as an invalidation of all of the hard work they put into Year 1. Then there are concerns around the fact that Bungie will apparently be supplying a single use quick level up that will provide a way for new players to have at least one high level character pretty quickly. The concerns are clear, but unavoidable. For the game to progress, and for the new content to be desirable, existing content simply can’t be competitive. The fun that was had levelling and collecting these items should simply be seen as part of the year one experience, and the year two experience will be something new altogether. People will always find some way to be disappointed about this, and in some ways I feel the same (I only just received Fatebringer, for example, and it has quickly become my favourite weapon), but I also see that this is necessary for the game to be even better. Soon enough, we may all have Gjallahorns.
This summary of concerns doesn’t necessarily cover everything. Many players are disappointed that only three players can join a fireteam for the majority of modes, or that Raids (which require 6 players) do not use matchmaking. Others are disappointed that certain weapons are virtually impossible to come across, and that these weapons are also somewhat overpowered. This has resulted in occasions where players that have them tend to lord themselves over those that don’t – or, more accurately, those players are more sought after when trying to find a raid party online as some folks out there won’t accept players that don’t have these weapons.
What is there to like about it?
Firstly, it’s gorgeous. While some may argue that the four maps that are utilised for every story mission, strike, and patrol become repetitive far too quickly, the obvious benefit is that Bungie was able to put an increased level of polish into the textures of the environments. Take the time to stop and look closely at your surroundings – the moon’s dust looks soft and wispy, the metal on Earth looks rusted and sharp, and the colour on Venus is vibrant. It’s a nice world to inhabit.
Secondly, the gun play in Destiny is, in my opinion, second to none –it’s fast, responsive, accurate, and weighty. Critical hits require precise aiming and weaponry is vast and varied. On this point I should mention a concern of mine is that low level weapons are unsatisfying – it’s not until after you reach level 20 that you start to find weapons that feel sublime in the way they’re used, by which time it may be too late for some. Once you start to unlock Legendary and Exotic weapons, though – everything changes. Even weapons of the same kind can feel completely different – from the impact and recoil to the accuracy, right down to even just the sound of the weapon, they all feel unique (particularly exotics). Movement, as well, is well implemented, if a little floaty. These aren’t the mechanics of COD or Battlefield, but more akin to the Halo series (of course). It has a more arcade feel in the way it plays out (both in regards to the way the guns feel and to movement), and some environments even include light platforming to capitalise on this. The inclusion of Sparrows (often referred to by players as “speeder bikes”) makes travelling from location to location even more enjoyable, although the game would benefit from the ability to race these machines, not to mention the capability to add weaponry…
In regards to the “bullet sponge” bosses? Fair cop, but I really find this an enjoyable challenge. Not only does it take a long time to chip away at some bosses, but some have shields, and they all have deadly attacks, not to mention the constantly spawning sea of lower level enemies that surround them. I find the challenge far more skill-based than the game is given credit for – there’s a lot to be said about the fine art of dodging, rushing for safety, maniacally taking out enemy after enemy, all the while aiming for critical hits AND taking out the main boss. All of that said, though, the most satisfying challenges are those that also include other challenges, such as the need to ‘disarm mines’ in the Prison of Elders.
On that note, with “The House of Wolves”, the end game is really the place to be (if you’re not interested in the Crucible). The two Raids are complex, lengthy, and difficult, and more than that, they require teamwork in order to see them to completion. The Prison of Elders caters to a wider audience, with a Level 28 Arena open to matchmaking, in addition to Level 32, 34, and 35 Arenas for those after a more difficult challenge. These are extremely fun to play, and can take a considerable amount of time on your first run through. It took my wife and I over 5 hours to beat the Level 35 Arena, and that was with the help of a much more skilled and experienced player. In addition, there are the Daily Heroic Story missions (which can be played alone), Weekly Heroic Strikes (which include matchmaking), and Weekly Nightfall Strikes (which fails your fireteam out to Orbit should you all fall in battle), so there’s quite a lot to do once you’ve finished the main game and DLC. Of course… there could always be more, and there is a level of repetition amongst these offerings, but I find there is enough reason for me to jump in every day – for now, at least. Now that I’ve achieved most of my initial goals, I am keen for The Taken King – if only to flesh out the amount of choice on offer. Let’s face it – there’s still a lot for me to collect from Year 1!
Story-wise, I find the lore to be deep and involved, but I have to agree that I don’t enjoy digging through the grimoire just to discover it all. There’s a lot to learn about what came before – from the environments, to the people, to the weapons and armour in the game itself, but it’s hidden, meaning many think it doesn’t exist, which is a shame…
Lastly, the loot itself. There is so much to be found in Destiny, that even after 200 hours (not much compared to more dedicated players), there is still a lot I need to find, or unlock, or level up. The more I research a weapon, the more I want it. The more I watch others pulling off seemingly magical feats due to the perks on their armour, the more I want to track them down. While I do have to pray to the gods of RNG, I do enjoy playing certain missions or raids with the distinct expectation of a certain reward. In most cases what I actually receive is crushing defeat in the form of yet another unwanted legendary shotgun. It’s times like these I raise my virtual fist to the heavens and cry “Hawkmoon, you will be mine (now that I have Gjallahorn).”
Destiny is a great game – a gorgeous world with sublime shooting mechanics, improving every couple of months, and it’s only going to get better come September 15. The concerns that are leveled against it are valid, but they don’t necessarily mean that the game is objectively bad – I for one love it to bits. It’s certainly not for everyone (no game is), but it doesn’t deserve the amount of hate that it gets. And with the changes that are expected to come with The Taken King, we can only hope that these concerns become a thing of the past. We’ll see soon enough (look for our full review not long after release).