Destiny (PS4) Review

I know this blog has been mostly film reviews so far, but I recently acquired a PS4 and thought “why not review games as well”.

I’d been ambivalent about investing in one of the new consoles – living in a rented flat in a fairly-expensive area has made me more money-conscious – but I had earned interest on some savings and thought that I may as well use it for something for me. So at the start of September I got the PS4 (trading in my PS3 and 10 games), along with Destiny, and here we are almost a month later.

In that time I’ve bought and traded in Watch_Dogs (a derivative knock-off/combo of GTA and Assassin’s Creed with hacking superpowers) and then bought Assassin’s Creed 4 – yet I’m already considering trading the latter in as well (I couldn’t give a shit about pirates and sailing the seven seas; bring back Ezio and Renaissance Italy). Trading them in isn’t because, in the words of Gob Bluth, “I’ve made a huge mistake” and bought a console I don’t rate: it’s because Destiny is perhaps one of the most addictive games I’ve ever played, and these other two games are vastly inferior. If you’re looking for plot, depth, feeling, or a deep sense of maturity here, don’t buy it. If you’re someone who loves first-person shooters, or played Halo and have never enjoyed anything involving shooting quite as much since, then why don’t you already have it?!

Set in a sci-fi future where humans were visited by a sentient moon called the Traveller, Destiny plonks you down in a post-Golden Age period – the Traveller was followed to earth by its nemesis, the Darkness (Ibelieveinathingcalledlove/Justlistentotherhythmofmyheart) which generally screwed humankind. At this point, we had spread across other planets, developed a spin-off, elf-like race called the Awoken, created a sentient robot species (Exos) and generally become spectacular – but you play as a resurrected character (a Guardian) after the fall of humankind, with only one city left on earth, protected by the (dead) Traveller, which sacrificed itself to save earth, creating little Portal-style flying cubes called Ghosts (voiced by Tyrion Lannister, aka Peter Dinklage) that serve as resurrectors and hackers – a “companion cube” if you will (budum-bum-TISH). The Guardians live in a Tower above the last city, and protect it from destruction from a bunch of alien species invading planets across the solar system. Basically, you have to work alone and with other players to take back planets and generally shoot the living hell out of everything.

The above paragraph probably gives you far more insight into the game’s story than the game will, which is quite frankly naff in this period of acclaimed, story-focused gaming, but this game is good in SPITE of the poor plot and characterisation. Stunning graphics, easy and responsive controls and the addiction-like need to upgrade your character’s level, weapons and armour combine with near-faultless cooperative and multiplayer additions to try and remove any semblance of a social life you might have. I’m serious (about the addictive part, I still have a life): this game is so compulsive that nothing else seems to compare to it. I know it has its faults, and I’ve finished the main story (this took around 1.5 to 2 hours of play every other day over three weeks for me), but once you boot it up and start shooting you suddenly realise it’s sucked you in again.destiny_game-1024x576

You have a choice of the three species and three character ranks – Titan, Warlock and Hunters – which follow the pattern of other sci-fi FPS games in that they’re essentially infantry, magicians and snipers. Once you’ve chosen this, and the look and gender of your character (I actually chose to play as a female character, an Awoken Titan, for a change), you’re thrown into the world of Destiny and forced to fight your way up. The four alien species are a mix: zombie-like things (the Hive), annoying infantry grunts (the Fallen), unstoppable cyborgs (the Vex) and armoured turtles (the Cabal), and each are maddening or easy to crack depending on your weaponry. The aforementioned Tower is the hub to which you return to upgrade, buy new stuff and generally hang out before the next mission you undertake, and all other players appear there, giving it a real sense of life and community (as well as dancing – pressing down on the D-pad allows you to shake your booty for absolutely no reason).

The game is always online, so on many of the missions you encounter other players from around the world – and whilst at many points (single player missions) you won’t really see much of them, in special levels called Raids, and in an open-world mode called Patrol, you can actively work together towards defeating the enemy. In some situations, you get experiences similar to the PS3 game Journey, where you encounter a player, team up, revive one another when killed, complete a really tough level together, and then never encounter each other again. I love this aspect of multiplayer gaming, as it means you’re not forced to listen to some American teenager call you every name under the sun (nobody can speak to one another), and you actively work together towards the same goal.

The multiplayer battle zone, called the Crucible, is the area in which Halo really resonates. A lot of gamers will have memories of playing Halo multiplayer, and just how good it was over 10 years ago, and Destiny shows that Bungie (who made the Halo games) really know how to make multiplayer work. I’m not great at this sort of thing, but every player is essentially reduced in the Crucible to the same level, and so lowly newbies can kill level 20 characters, meaning that you get a hell of a lot more out of it than just being shot by the same idiot 20 times per match. Also, everything you do there adds towards your experience points, further feeding the addiction to upgrade, get new armour and guns and generally keep levelling up.

As you would hope with a new console, the graphics are really something else at times – the aforementioned Watch_Dogs (screw that underscore) and Assassin’s Creed 4 really don’t have the same amount of “oomph” this does – and cruising around Mars, Venus or the Moon, or even just hanging around in the Tower, you get a real sense of just how much the PS4 is capable of. Levels aren’t particularly open or huge, which is a shame, but the Patrol missions allow you more exploration, and the multiplayer maps are pretty good for all the different types of game (there are some great hiding places and high points with which to dominate the opposition). Musically, Bungie has done it again – I can still remember the choral chants from Halo – and other than a godawful Paul McCartney track over the end-credits, the music is memorable and bombastic.

I do have issues with this game though – the plot had such potential, and whilst the game is only the beginning of a 10 year cycle of DLCs, expansions and new story events to come, it ends with a whimper story-wise, and a sense of “is that it?”. Much more could have been done; more time could have been taken to give Dinklage some good lines to read (“IT’S A WIZARD – FROM THE MOON!”; “IT’S IN THE WAAAAAALLLLLLS” just two spectacularly awful examples) – as it is, one of the best actors of the past couple of years sounds as if he’s despairing off-mic over each line of script just before he reads it. Other recognisable voices (Nathan Fillion, Lance Reddick) crop up as minor characters, but this game really does fall down in terms of a cohesive, interesting or dramatic story. Contrast this with the Mass Effect games, and the sense that everything you did or said had an impact on the rest of the game. Destiny drags gaming back to the “shoot, run, shoot, repeat” that many games companies are now moving away from, and it’s the largest negative (especially considering how long the game has taken to be made, and the half a billion dollars (!) it cost to make).

Also, once you hit level 20 (the “level cap” as it’s called), you’ve more or less finished the conventional game (unless you level up quicker than the story). Here, the game essentially says “well done for your work so far: we’re now going to change everything”. As a consequence, you can’t increase your ability in the same way – instead, you have to rely upon chancing on legendary (read incredibly rare) armour, which somehow increases your level. After playing the game and seeing your character change and get better and better, it’s a kick in the face to find that further progression requires a ridiculous amount of luck, chance and boring “grinding” (shoot, run, shoot, repeat) to get anywhere near even level 21. This makes the gamer feel punished, and while it still remains addictive after this point, you have to be very committed to keep increasing your level (or able to cope with replaying the same things over and over in the hope that some alien conveniently drops what you’re looking for). It’s almost as if Bungie decided that while they’re working on the next instalments/swimming in pools full of money, you have to keep working hard in advance of an unspecified future event in which you’ll need to be at level 25. Not really fair to be honest!

However, aesthetically and playing-wise, this game is really very good – and incredibly addictive. But leave your story hopes at the door – this is actually the epitome of a movie blockbuster: noisy, glossy, exciting and addictive, but not really featuring any depth or feeling, and with the nagging sense of too much being held back for future instalments.

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