Fried Take - "Destiny" (2014)
I have not seen everything Destiny has to offer. I know this, for a fact. And in fact, I may go one step further and say that I will, in all likelihood, never see everything this game has to offer. Of course, part of this has to do with the absolute chore it is to get this game to get connected, stay connected, and not throw about a dozen different cryptic error messages at me. But I'll save that complaint for later. Because if Bungie's overhyped exercise in the power of marketing was worth putting up with the horrible connection issues and egregious crashes was truly a great, original game, it would be worth it. But it's not.
Like many dedicated video game players expected, Destiny is not particularly an original, innovative, or even a fantastic game. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is one of the most derivative, by-the-numbers experiences I've had with a piece of software this year, held together by a half-baked story and truly awful progression.
The story, what little of it is there, is a hodgepodge of cliches filled with utterly forgettable characters and needlessly convoluted terminology. What can be sussed from it is that a giant orb, known as the Traveler (it's a Bungie game, so get ready for about a zillion capitalized nouns,) appeared out of nowhere and beckoned in an era of space travel for humanity. But the Traveler itself has had enemies in its, erm, travels, and those enemies of course end up attacking humanity and ravaging Earth. What remains of humanity is on distant planets, fighting against said enemies, most of whom are comprised by the generically-named Covenent wannabes, the Darkness.
All of this exposition, and so little to care about. Honestly, you can ignore most of this story and be fine. In fact, you might be better off, because it's some of the most uninspired tripe out there, and I honestly expect more from Bungie at this point. This is a studio that's been around since the 90's, giving us the Marathon and Halo games, both series that have interesting lore and compelling narratives. But here? It's the stereotypical "humanity must survive" narrative we've seen time and time again in games, and considering this is 2014, where games have evolved to tell fantastic narratives grounded in believable yet fantastical worlds, stuff like this holds the industry back. Simply put, the narrative content of this game is bland and intellectually offensive, and not even worth trying to put thought towards. Because it feels, frankly, like no thought was put into it to begin with.
No real thought seems to have been applied to the rest of the game, either, from what I was able to play. Yes, the core gameplay is very tight, and satisfying to a degree. The gunplay is polished and snappy, the melee feels good, vehicles control like they ought to, but... something is missing. There's a certain kind of spunk the Bungie-developed Halo games had to them, a type of freshness that's almost impossible to describe unless you're actually playing it. Yet that's entirely missing here, much to my chagrin. We have a futuristic story with strange weapons, mysterious worlds, a foreboding intergalactic threat, and yet all one can muster while playing this game is a resounding "eh." There is nothing broken here, yet nothing particularly wonderful. It works, but it doesn't excel at its task. When you think of a typical, big-budget, stereotypical "AAA" shooter, well, this is it. Right here. Just with some Borderlands elements slapped onto it haphazardly.
And yes, I did say haphazardly. I'm not a big proponent of Gearbox, but with the first two Borderlands, they really nailed something special. They took the addictive qualities found in dungeon-crawling lootfests and somehow translated them successfully into an open-world shooter. There were hundreds of guns, a lively world to explore, and upgrades that packed a real punch if you knew what you were doing. Bungie, knowing that they couldn't just crank out another shooter and call it a day, looked at everything that series did right and figured they could produce a carbon copy. The problem? Borderlands takes place in a living, breathing world inhabited with memorable characters and a constant stream of new and unique weapons. Destiny, on the other hand, exists in a lifeless, dull vacuum, sprinkled with a few characters whose names you'll quickly forget, along with a few guns that wholly unremarkable. Yes, there are upgrades and perks, but why bother? Their progression is incredibly limited and stunted, and can be cheesed by exploiting the patently broken leveling system. Every similarity to that other, better game is only surface-level. It is a sociopathic imitation of an established formula, going through the same routines yet failing to truly grasp what makes it work.
But what really undoes Bungie's allegedly ambitious new game is the insistence of having the entire experience be online. For the uninformed (I don't blame you, Activision has done an awful job advertising this fact,) every component of Destiny requires the player be constantly connected to the game's servers. Want to progress the stale story? Grind a few levels? Go solo for some loot-hunting? Too bad. Even if you have no interest in playing with anybody else, the game insists that players be connected to the thing like an MMO. The problem I have with this is that the game functions nothing like an MMO. There are a few players in your lobby, and every once in a while, you'll see them do something. Maybe kill an enemy or open a chest. For the most part, though, you'll be wandering the lifeless landscapes by yourself, with no need for any other players. Yeah, you can invite whatever player you run into to form a team, but that's about it. This is a game that could have easily been a single-player experience, and forcing an always-online system onto players just wanting to experience the world by themselves is a pretty scummy thing to do.
Aside from the vast expanse of nothingness to explore and the limp noodle of a campaign to go through, there are some other multiplayer options. There are deathmatches, which are pretty typical affairs albeit with some neat little gadgets, and Bungie promises a future of scheduled community events, such as raids. Again, everything here works as it should, I feel, but it all ultimately comes together in something that feels very undercooked. Bungie has done multiplayer before, and honestly, they've done it in some of the best ways I've ever seen accomplished. But that was with Halo, not this. This just feels a bit forced by comparison, at least for my purposes. For my money, there are better games on the market with playable deathmatch modes, and quite frankly, better games on the PS4 if you're looking for an MMO to sink some hours into.
There are very few other things I can say about Destiny without really forcing myself to try. It's pretty to look at, sure, but as I've been saying this entire write-up, there's nothing particularly engaging the aesthetic on display. There were games about space travel released several years ago with worlds that felt more like living and breathing spaces than boring plains with some stuff to jump on. Even with very polished graphics that look almost lifelike in some areas, nothing can disguise the fact that Bungie has given players a tray of plastic fruit. That is to say, it's all very pretty looking, but there's nothing to really sink your teeth into and pull you into the experience.
Writing about Destiny, I can't help but get a strange sense of deja vu. They are two entirely different games, yes, but this game reminds me very much of this year's Watch Dogs. Both experiences were built up with colossal amounts of hype, using buzzwords like "revolutionary" and "innovative" to drive preorders up. But at the end of the day, neither product was anything close to what I'd call a game-changer. They're riffs on things we've seen before, and quite honestly, seen done far better. Just because we're in a new generation of consoles doesn't mean developers get permission to just hit the "reset" button and start again from the ground up. That's not how this works. Each console generation does not exist in a vacuum, and nobody should get a free pass to just shove something we've been playing for years in our faces and call it the next big thing.
But I guess this is where my opinion of the two games differs. Watch Dogs at least tried. It was a GTA clone, yes, but it had some novel hooks and a nice world, not to mention the fact that Ubisoft has never tried their hands at an open-world crime game. But Bungie doesn't get that much lenience from me. They've been in the industry for a long time, and have been developing shooters for most of that time. They know what they're doing. And for them to put out something this poorly thought-out, this soulless? Well, it's kind of insulting. It's insulting that I ever thought that they were capable of something great beyond Halo.
Ultimately, Destiny is not a bad game. But it's certainly not a good one. It's above-average, yes, and better than the last attempts at shooters Activision has published. That being said, it's still a wholly derivative start to a series that, from first impressions, is looking to be absolutely nothing special. And from the people who crafted some of my favorite console gaming experiences to date, that's a real shame.