Ten hours into playing Destiny I knew it wasn't a great game. The world exuded blandness. The story was nonsensical, told to me by half-asleep robot. And I kept having this feeling that I was repeating myself. The same levels. The same enemies. The same environments. I'm now twenty hours in and I have to say, the constant sense of deja vu has yet to stop me from playing. Destiny is a fundamentally mean game. You grind missions after mission because you're compelled to, not because you have any desire to explore the game's world.
Destiny is an always online shooter made by Bungie, published by Activision, and is a terrible game I can't stop playing. This surprises even me because I don't play many shooters and I don't like this one. The game is structured like a multiplayer online game. It has long battles that require multiple people to join in, like in Activision's other cash-cow franchise, World of Warcraft. Enemies drop weapons and armor, and you gain new abilities the more you play, again like in WoW. But none of it matters.
Those long fights or "Strikes" are a means to dump loads of ammo into a giant rotating eye that won't die, even after a five minute hailstorm of bullets. Each new piece of armor is at best a marginal improvement over the last, a simple numbers game of deducing whether 99 defense + 34 strength is better than 100 defense + 21 discipline. And yet, let me tell you, within six hours of you reading this review, I will be playing Destiny.
Almost every mission has the same basic structure. You're told by your robot companion, Ghost (played by Peter Dinklege) that a planet has an event of interest for you to explore. You say, sure, I'll take a look and jump down to the surface of Earth/the Moon/Venus/Mars. As you enter the cave or wall crevasse Dinklebot rattles off a piece of lore that is nigh incomprehensible, but you nod anyway. That's when you enter the real part of Destiny and its cyclical madness.
The outside is filled with other people, random events and a far more bountiful landscape than the pits below. Above ground, you can pretend that there's something more to this game. That's where the potential is. But then you venture down and it's the same event over and over again. You run down a new corridor in an environment you've visited before, scan a non-descript computer, and shoot three waves of enemies.
Then, for an accurate impression of the game at level 20, take the above two paragraphs, and then copy and paste it 20 more times. Gathering the necessary loot to rise above the soft level cap can be an exercise in futility. To gain more loot, you have to play the story over on progressively harder difficulty levels, though a replay does not guarantee a reward. Stranger is the multiplayer mode, the Crucible, where loot is distributed more or less evenly between top players and losers, meaning the game doesn't exactly incentivise high level play.
Occasionally you'll come across the "Legendary Engram" which, while taunting you over Twitter, can be traded for high level weapons or armour. Except that sometimes it will barf up three uncommon items that are totally unusable and not for your current level. So don't be surprised if you spend 10 additional hours grinding out loot for the first raid, the Vault of Glass. You need to be the equivalent of level 26 to play it, although the first players have recommended at least being a level higher.
Yet, despite all these complaints, I'm still going to play Destiny tonight. The gun-play is tight, as it should be. Bungie is great at making shooters. Each gun feels good, and the loot system is just rewarding enough to send dopamine coursing through my brain at every drop. The game generally looks beautiful, though it'd be easier to tell if the Moon and Mars didn't feel like palette swapped desert vistas. Separated from the machine festering around it, Destiny handles well.
Then there are the moments that really break my heart - these flashes of glory. Venus is fun to explore thanks to its beautiful smattering of greens and yellows in a jungle landscape. Meanwhile, the long cooperative strikes feel desperate. The end bosses soak up more bullets than the Absorbing Man, but the challenge of having to deal with a huge monster and waves of enemies can be engrossing. In a couple of strikes, I found myself jumping up and down as my Warlock attempted to dodge incoming blasts, and target the enemy's weak point.
I've figured out a rhythm. I turn on a podcast or a TV show. Pick a mission, and play through it fair mindlessly until the end boss. Then I turn the volume down for a few minutes, to focus on the last fight. I don't feel better for having a system. Playing Destiny at times feels like I've jogged on a treadmill while munching on Cheetos. Sure, you've exercised but you're not going to look any slimmer.
In many ways, Destiny is an inevitability. It's the logical consequence of hundreds of millions of dollars poured into a potential sinkhole labelled "always online shooter," without understanding the attraction of a perpetually online world, people. Interacting with other people is hard and there's not much incentive to do so. Unless you whine and beg your friends to buy the game with you on your preferred platform, you're often out of luck when it comes to just palling around this open world. I enjoy strikes but there's only four of them.
Destiny is a game built to sell two other games. It's mechanical, serving a function more than it serves any artistic purpose. It's $500 million. It's 20 hours spent shooting the same enemies in the same environments ad infinitum. It comes with couch seat imprinted with a butt mark, guilt, and three other amazing features. It's just too bad none of those features are fun.
I haven't played the Vault of Glass raid yet, although I will. I also haven't spent much time in the Crucible (beyond a few matches in which I was killed repeatedly by a Hunter) so I'm not going to comment on it. I'd like to check back in with this game from time to time, so maybe you'll see more about it up on the site. Until then, Destiny turns out to be an interesting place to visit, but I'm sure regretting moving there.