'Destiny' review -- a straight shooter?

Few games in history have managed to get the hype-train chugging along the tracks to the degree that Bungie’s “Destiny” has. Made by the makers of “Halo,” with stunning graphics, and a difficult-to-define genre, the intrigue and excitement surrounding “Destiny” has been without parallel. So is “Destiny” the spiritual successor to “Halo,” or a poor imitation destined to fail?

The hook behind “Destiny” (Activision) is that it blends the traditional first-person shooter with Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) mechanics like those seen in “World of Warcraft” and “Final Fantasy XIV.”

The result is a highly imperfect experience, but one that does manage to be unique, and is surprisingly addictive, if a bit too grind-heavy for all but the most hardcore of gamers.

Let’s get the worst bit out of the way first. The story behind “Halo” was shaky in parts, but the story behind “Destiny” is extremely poor. The basic concept is sound enough. Set in the distant future after a mysterious orb called “The Traveler” ushers in a “Golden Age” for humanity, a malevolent force called “The Darkness” appears to destroy both The Traveler and the human race.

Unfortunately, the story is packed with nameless, bland characters -- as well as the complete misuse of the talents of "Game of Thrones" Peter Dinklage -- and dull monologues that use concepts such as “The Black Garden” and “Rasputin” without properly defining them or placing them within context. The result is a confusing and almost entirely irrelevant plot that severely impedes the immersion of the game at times.

Which is a great shame because, when the plot gets out of the way, “Destiny” is a very good, if imperfect title.

“Destiny” has the highest production costs for any game in history and visually it shows. There have been some graphically excellent games since the new generation of consoles were released last year, but “Destiny” merges technical quality with artistic beauty to create genuinely jaw-dropping representations of Earth, the Moon, Venus and other planets that are a joy to explore.

Additionally, developers Bungie have introduced simple yet intuitive controls that make “Destiny” respond well. Small touches like moving the melee attack button to a shoulder button seem odd at first, but work very well. Aiming and movement are a breeze, and the boost-jump makes gliding around very easy.

However, what really sets Destiny apart is the limited MMO elements.

The basic structure is that you, as a “Guardian” fly between planets in your ship and dip down onto the surfaces to complete story missions, raids and strikes with other players, as well as basic patrol missions in which you gain experience and level up your character.  On the way, you collect loot such as weapon parts, armor, guns etc. With that, you can return to base, collect bounties, buy more weapons and upgrade your stuff.

While the worlds aren’t as open as the enormous worlds of “World of Warcraft” and “Final Fantasy XIV,” they are pretty vast, and it takes a significant amount of time to navigate and explore in your little speedster vehicle that you can summon at will. It also integrates the online experience seamlessly, so you can be cruising around on your way to a mission to see a few other people in battle, and jump in to help them or vice-versa.

Keeping player interaction to a limit works well, allowing for a full single-player experience while integrating multiplayer aspects without losing the immersiveness of the world.

However, by integrating the MMO aspects, Destiny has brought into the FPS (First-Person Shooter) world an unwanted companion - grind.

“Destiny” is full of grind. In the first 20 levels you will face many of the same enemies in a number of different ways. Yet it manages to keep itself fresh for the main story. Unfortunately, once you get over the level 20 cap, in order to progress and level up you need to get “light” mostly from rare and legendary (i.e. uber-rare) loot. Because this is so hard to come by, “Destiny” can quickly become a chore, grinding through enemies in the hope of every now and again getting a piece of gear that can be turned into loot.

While there are still plenty of other fun stuff to do, and Bungie is working hard to add more strikes (three-player dungeons that are not for the faint-hearted) and other side-missions and updates, a lot of what comes after level 20 is a slog for that ever elusive gold and purple loot.

“Destiny” is a game with a poor story, bad characters and a great deal of repetition that comes without the diversity of roles that normally accompanies an MMO, Yet despite these flaws, I’m still playing. For “Destiny” also offers stunning graphics, an immersive if cold world, excellent mechanics and a great gaming hook for the completists and obsessives among us who can stand the heavy dose of grind that “Destiny” requires.


“Destiny” is available now for Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360.

RRP - $59.99