Editor’s Note: A year after the game’s release, this review has been updated following the release of both two expansion – The House of Wolves and The Dark Below – which reflects on the overall score, and final verdict.
After nearly a decade stuck under the umbrella of Microsoft, Bungie regained its independence on April 29, 2010, when we learned of a partnership agreement with another video game giant Activision. The deal between the two companies was meant to give birth to a game of global scale, designed to last at least 10 years. Thus was born Destiny, a shooter that draws its inspiration from the MMO and RPG lore. With a $500 million budget devoted to its development (but also marketing deployment), Destiny Does it really achieve its ambitions? This review took more than five weeks in the making, and it was totally worth the wait, as I wanted to try everything, and see how much Bungie listens to the community during the launch week.
In less than 24 hours of its launch, Destiny is in the big leagues, stepping right through the front door! Activision has managed to generate $500 million back; shutting up all analysts who doubted the success of the series. With a smart preorder plan, a helping alpha and beta, the game ultimately didn’t need the opinion of the press or word-of-mouth, since on paper, all the ingredients were there to captivate the heart of all types of gamers alike.
Visually, Destiny is a great success. From its dazzling impeccable frame rate, art direction, the game is a rock solid rendering feat, worthy of the capabilities of next generation consoles. It is indeed a point that the developers did not skimp on, adding to the charm of the game. Topped with Marty O’Donnell’s musical and theatrical soundtrack, the game brings shivers down my spine.
To do this, the writers opted for a history of travel among the stars, allowing us to go from planet to planet, offering us beautiful landscapes and panoramas. Earth, Mars, Venus and the Moon, each of these planets have a unique artistic touch, perfectly identifiable, that you will enjoy exploring throughout an epic journey. If Venus and Mars are by far the most mesmerizing discover planets, we are very surprised at the proposed treatment for the Earth, which is nothing but a collection of abandoned Russian warehouses. Weird.
However, to compensate for this lack of taste, Bungie has been working to offer us an open environment in which the player has complete freedom of movement. However, before we get into the thick of things, you must first connect the console to the Internet and create your lead character, also known as Guardian.
Like any self-respecting MMO, Destiny requires a persistent connection. The kind of stress that would have caused a scandal 2 to 3 years ago. Anyway, the title is based on the progression of multiple story missions, some co-op requiring a three-man fireteam, as well as 6-player raid to advance in the story of this space adventure. Through that, you will go through the character creation and the choice of the class. A classic recipe.
In some games, shaping your warrior quickly becomes boring, the fault sometimes in having too many options and elements available to the player. To avoid this pitfall, Bungie opted for a clean interface, with easy navigation, and offer the right amount of variety to not spend hours reading through stats. Once you have defined the look of your character, you advance through the game, and the loot and XP that you get in the game, will physically evolve your avatar. A cosmetic change to some level, but also in terms of gameplay.
All it remains is choose between Titan, Hunter and Warlock, a typical equivalent to a Tank, Carry and Support class in common RPG language. Then comes the choice of sex and race, but these differences are pure cosmetics.
This is the biggest complaint that we can make to Destiny, which seems to target a single public: FPS player are not familiar to MMOs recipes. At first, all Guardians are the same, lacking teamwork, as Bungie has favored pure action. We evolve most of the time as a squad, but each Guardian will behave in much the same way, by pulling the trigger on everything in sight and never worry about his partner, unless to revive him. It is only from level 15 that players can finally glimpse a bit of variety in the turn to approach his Guardian.
With the introduction of a new sub-class, the skill tree offers other bonuses that allow you to choose new abilities and to differentiate themselves from the masses. Before that, the lack of variety and repetition of missions is another problem Destiny face, which hurts its appeal to the public. Missions mostly push you to have lovely strolls around planets, use your ghosts to open door, enter areas with waves of enemies, and on to the next one.
The more we advance in the adventure and the harder it gets, forcing you to use the surrounding to protect you. Enemies come in waves, their aggression and damage only grows depending on your level. It is one way to offset the weakness of the AI, a simple minded one I must admit, only repeating the same actions, without worrying much the Guardians. Fallen, Hive, Vex and Cabal might require different tactics and strategies to deal with them efficiently, but in the end, they are all rather dumb.
If Destiny seems primarily built for a single player campaign with friends, do not forget the competitive aspect, the crucible. Available to players later in the adventure (starting level 5), it allows guardians to clash for glory. Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Domination and Salvage, Bungie’s multiplayer is no different than most competitive FPS, but it does the job, thanks to a great map designs.
However, coming from a game that claims to be revolutionary in its approach, it is hard not to be disappointed or be picky. This is all frustrating when matchmaking does not distinguish between you and level 20 Guardians, and you notice how unbalanced it becomes, even if in the end, it all pushes you back in the singleplayer campaign to boost your character’s skills and find better weapons and gear.
Nevertheless, Destiny has an addictive side that drives us to continue the adventure, even when completed. It’s the loot, and this sense of exclusive and limited content that appeals to the players, very close to how I felt during my World of Warcraft days. From the exotic Gjallarhorn rocket launch that seems to be crafted by Nordic gods, to The Armamentarium, a chest piece that seems to be Rambo’s getup; there is so much for you to show off, but at the same time, benefit from the new perks.
Despite these pitfalls, Destiny is still a very enjoyable game to play, which it owes to its ultra-accessible gameplay. It obviously feels like a dirty Halo cousin, yet still proves that Bungie is one of the greatest developers when it comes to console FPS.
The Dark Below
Almost three month after its launch, Destiny offered its first expansion pack (don’t call them DLCs) full of hopes and promises. With most launch players ended up roaming around the same cards, repeat the same weekly missions, while looting legendary pieces of equipment available in a single raid (Vault of Glass), the Dark Below expansion promised to break the routine.
To do so, the expansion is packed with an increase in level cap, a new raid and a new strike, as well as 3 new multiplayer maps (4 maps and another strike if you’re on PlayStation consoles) and 3 new quests all linked to the battle against Crota with Eris Morn being the pivotal new character. Asking for $19.99, is this expansion pack worth the investment? Let’s be honest, all seemed light at first and the sense of recycling elements, with a sense of deja-vu doesn’t help after several hours playing it.
Eris’ first missions, which requires you to visit her in the Tower, start at level 24 and are organized in several stages. The first is a series of three scripted missions, prequel to the new strike and upcoming raid. The second part of these missions is to complete several sidequests (bounties) for various purposes but all with the similar objectives: kill creatures of the dark, fetch for items. However, we appreciate the subtleties that is to kill one certain type of enemy using a particular weapon, and the public events that helps you be armed with a sword (like in the first missions on the moon in the original release).
On the multiplayer side, three new maps were released for all consoles (one more on PlayStation consoles as stated above). The first is Pantheon, offering an ideal view of the black garden. A rather large map, it’s a mix of high ceilings mazes focused around a central point that is more open and conducive to team clashes. As it is difficult to take a position, this map is ideal to avoid camper disease and by far the best one in the mix. Skyshock takes place on Earth and offers a very open area that is great for to the use of snipers and vehicles scattered around its nooks environment. The smallest of them is called the Cauldron and takes you into the depths of the Moon, the appointed den of the hive. Not really highlighted because of its lack of openness and height, and the design level being lower in comparison to the other ones. Nevertheless, it’s all rather disappointing for those who hoped the change of scenery, and hopefully a new planet.
To accompany the arrival of this expansion, guardians will be able to increase their light level 32. Like it was the case with the original release, you will be forced to raid and receive enough loot and armor pieces, as well as new upgrade elements (Radiant Energy for weapons and Radiant Shards for armor) to fully reach your equipment’s max light level. Otherwise, the routine is felt quickly and it soon resumes our old habits of accepting daily bounties, farm vanguard points, collect legendary and exotic armor so you can then proudly parade it in the Tower.
The Dark Below expansion was a little tease of what a true sequel of Destiny could be, but not in the good way. The return to the game is a passionate routine which quickly becomes a hassle to go through when you have capped your character level. With more content certainly, and a rather hearty fare, this extension did not manage to renew the interest in Destiny’s experience, unless you are loot addict.
The House of Wolves
If the first extension calmed the demand for new content by the community for a while, partly saved by the positive response to the new raid, changes was what Bungie wanted to do with the next expansion: A new social hub for guardians, better storyline, a brand new cooperative mode and weekly PvP events is on the menu for the House of Wolves pack.
Before I jump into the new modes, I will go through the new missions, which are extending the main story of Destiny. Bungie has made an effort for something different in terms of mission objectives and rhythm in this adventure, with a background story behind it. Set during a treacherous attack of The Fallens against their queen (leader of the Awokens), the later calls upon the guardians to hunt down these traitors before they form their alliances with other Fallens, and put an end to their leader Skolas.
In terms of gameplay and pace, the expansion is rather well thought out offering new “relic” weapon called the scorch canon, parts where you have to be wary of booby traps, as well as a fight against enemies on heavy skiffs. Once the main campaign is done, the Queen sadly doesn’t give you access to a new raid sadly, but still opens the door to a new PVE challenge called the Prison of Elders.
Even if the lack of a new raid was a letdown for most of the original players when the news was announced, the Prison of Elders remained a great addition to the game. Mainly, it’s similar to a hoard mode arena (in 4 different level of difficulties) that plays in successive stages, which pits you in different and waves of enemies, with different and new modifiers into a final phase against a boss. Unlike the raid, the Prison of Elders only accepts fireteams of 3 guardians, which pushes for a more demanding synchronization and teamwork, and is filled with generous loot when completed: three new exotic weapon bounties, and over 20 different legendary equipment and weapons themed after Fallen gear.
The main novelty in PVP for House of Wolves – other than three new maps – is the arrival of a new weekly multiplier mode called Trials of Osiris. The base is an Elimination mode between two teams of three players, which emphasize on quick thinking, teamwork and reviving team members. To participate in these trials, you will have to purchase a token only available from Friday to Tuesday. A big fan of PVP myself, this mode was the closest thing to a true competitive mode, as each trial passage is forbidding you losing three matches in a row, and the more matches you win, the higher your rewards are, ranging from weapons to armor pieces, passing by shaders and emblems. If you are truly amazing at PVP, and part of an organized team, then you could aim for 9 perfect wins (without any single loss), which will reward you with access to an area called the Lighthouse. Acting as a social hub for Osiris’ best champions, this area is on Mercury, close to the Sun scorching rays, and painted in Egyptian mythology architecture elements and colors, which is a very different feel to all we have seen in Destiny before. Best part in the end, is the enormous chest that is in the main chamber of the lighthouse, waiting for guardians to open it, and rejoice on the exclusive and very limited loot you can get, including Trial of Osiris weapons, a ship, an exotic emblem, armor and much more.
More convincing than The Dark Below, House of Wolves is still too shy on content to attract new crowds to the franchise, yet has enough to boost the interest of the original players. Hopefully, it seemed like Bungie are on the right track, and we cannot wait until we get our hands on the next major expansion coming on October 15th – The Taken King – promising almost twice the content of the original game, new subclasses, a raid and so much.
Destiny was reviewed using an Xbox One review copy from Activision. The game is also available on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, and Xbox 360. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
Destiny Original Release
• Really stable servers
• So much to do
• Artistic direction of the highest level
• Exceptional soundtrack
• Challenging for those who want to try upping levels
• Amazing control
• One of the best coop games I’ve played
The Dark Below
• Too scarce in content
• The price tag in comparison to what you get
• No real upgrade to the Destiny experience
House of Wolves Expansion
• The Prison of Elder
• The emphasis on loot and a reworked upgrade system
• Well-paced campaign, with an effort on narrative storytelling
• Trial of Osiris is a great challenge
Destiny Original Release
• Some issues with balancing in multiplayer
• Missions lack variety
• Really needs some interaction between players
• Not much of a story to be frank
The Dark Below
• Crota’s sword gameplay
• Loot still as addictive
• The Strike and raid is linked to the main story.
House of Wolves Expansion
• Still a flat and simple storyline
• No raid available
• Recycling many of the original locations