Destiny (1)

Genre: First Person Shooter
Year: 2014
Developed by: Bungie
Published by: Activision
Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox ONE
Feeling Like: Reloading

Certain games are loaded. They come with a million assumptions about it; either from the hardcore fan base that have dedicated thousands of hours, or from outsiders who know enough about it to stay away…or be further interested. Minecraft. World of Warcraft. The Call of Duty series.

Destiny is absolutely one of them, and possibly has the most emotional baggage of any modern video game franchise. It relies on nostalgia and modern technology. It relies heavily on a player base that will pay full price for a game, but also invest additional resources into expansions and microtransactions. It wants to have players share their experience, but it puts up barriers to communicate with others. I felt true isolation, but also a part of an emboldened community. Destiny wants to have its cake and eat it too. And it almost succeeds.

So what route do I go? Do I discuss my limited, yet enjoyable experience? Or do I go into depth about what Destiny means to the entire industry as a whole? Is the 500 meant to be a window into why I like certain games, or is it meant to be a commentary on how much I’ve grown and learned?

Let me know if you find out, it would make writing these entries a hell of a lot simpler.

Destiny’s inclusion into the video game Zeitgeist isn’t simple to explain, though. It’s complicated as hell, so maybe it’s appropriate that my thoughts are a mish-mash of bullets, expectations and reflections.

Destiny (3)
In terms of a tableau, Destiny has among the best.

The initial hype for Destiny was unreal. Bungie, having vacated the Halo franchise, went on to do their own things and fans could not have been more excited. I…wasn’t sure what to think. I certainly didn’t dive in at the time, and only finally got my hands on it when I purchased a PS4 two years after it launched. I think it’s appropriate that Destiny was the very first game I played on the shiny, new Playstation.

It’s impossible not be overwhelmed at first. The scope, at least in terms of storytelling, goes far beyond what Bungie has ever tried to do. There’s multiple planets to visit, and you could choose the order. There’s a much bigger cast and emphasis on cut-scenes and storytelling. The graphics are a major upgrade from anything I’d seen on a console FPS before; I never, ever got tired of staring into the horizon and appreciating the backdrop scenery. The planets, alien rock formations and colorful swirls of stars were a constant source of awe and the User Interface is so clean and slick – it always stays out of your way (outside of menus).

Destiny (2)
Even the screenshots make me want to play again…this time with other people!

The shooting feels SO good that it’s almost a shame other games don’t copy the control scheme completely. Every shot feels heavy, whether it hits your intended target or not (in my case…mostly not). Reloading is tight and comes with a satisfying indication that you’re ready to go again. Aiming, running, jumping all feel perfect. This is a game that was tested over and over from a veteran team, and you can tell immediately.

Traversal on desolate deserts, forgotten ruins and technological temples is a cinch. Movement itself feels great, but being able to summon a high-speed bike by holding the PS4 bar without any kind of hassle is both a relief, and a rush. I was never dismayed by a journey’s potential length with my trusty pocket sized transport by my side.

If that was the extent of your arsenal, I would’ve been more than satisfied. But Destiny took one more leap and added powers to the repertoire of moves you have. When the stars align, you really do feel like a FPS god. Jump out of cover, blast enemies with your energy surge, headshot them while they’re in the air…there are very few experiences that can compete with Destiny’s highs. This is a true evolution of a first person shooter.

Destiny (4)
Lighting effects are stunning, the colors are a bit muted.

But what kind of controversy would stem from a game JUST being good? There are more than a few flaws that prevent Destiny from being any higher on my list. You can easily tell there’s a design clash between being open world, and trying to contain a linear, compelling narrative. It doesn’t always land, particularly when the story and writing doesn’t support a voice cast that is trying their best, but don’t match up to the stellar gunplay.

Arriving back at home base after a successful mission never felt like a relief. The architecture is cold, the area is too big to feel comfortable, and there are a dozen other players running around but…wait, can I talk to them? Yes? How? Bungie seemingly put up so many roadblocks to my understanding that I really didn’t understand if I was playing a single player, or multiplayer game. Or both?

Destiny feels like it’s trying to be everything at once. It offers a ton of loot, fine, but at the time I had real difficulty trading with random players that weren’t in my party. I beat the campaign, but don’t remember a single character, song, or story beat. It’s trying REALLY hard to be cool, and you can tell. Everything is shiny, everybody is a bad-ass (or a comedian), every threat is going to destroy the universe. It’s almost too much.

Destiny as a whole game, and my experience with Destiny are two entirely different things. I barely came in to say hello, I certainly didn’t mingle with the guests and take it all in. I wanted a campaign with tight shooting and great graphics, and that’s what I got. What I didn’t get was an immersive, MMO shooter that introduced me to a world that I wanted to say in for years afterward. It seems to encompass every factor surrounding video game design from the last 5 years, good and bad.

As if it’s not already difficult enough to try and retrospectively rank games; Destiny and its sequel (not on the 500) are a masterclass example in showing how developers can improve upon a game’s launch. Bungie certainly didn’t quit – the expansions and DLC won the fans over, with better storytelling, characters and plot. House of Wolves, Taken King and Rise of Iron all introduced better designed levels and a more focused story for players to care about.

And I missed all of that. Damn.

Destiny (5)
I really, REALLY should’ve played Destiny with friends.

What a weird time for games. Major publications and review sites will, typically, only review games at launch. It is irrefutable to ignore that for many major titles, this will be the absolute WORST version of the product. What does this say about how we evaluate products? Does this put more, or less pressure on developers? Should credit be given that teams will listen to fans and their input and take the time to re-haul the game entirely? Or should blame be given, that the developers didn’t make a good game in the first place? Does any credit belong to fans who, despite a rocky start, see something good in these faulty launches and stick with the team until the very end?

This is more than a movie getting a remake, or a television series adding a new character. Can you imagine of any of Picasso, or Rembrandt’s works received yearly updates? What if Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” changed the color of the stars from yellow to green to reflect current trends and consumer desires?

Video games now, in all forms, are living, breathing entities. Varying levels of success will impact the nature of a game’s growth, certainly, but it doesn’t predict it. Destiny’s sequel would be even better received…eventually. After a rocky launch, Destiny 2’s expansions are being heralded as the best part of the game yet…2 years after launch. Sound familiar?

Now that the dizzying routine of corporate hot potato that is video game production is evident across the entire entertainment spectrum, it can be exhausting to keep up. Forget trying to figure out if you’ll enjoy a game, has there been a sequel announced yet? A pre-order bonus? A beta test? DLC? Which console, or PC marketplace is it being released for? Am I getting a censored version, because I live in North America? Has the company’s parent owner filed bankruptcy? Is the CEO in the news, for nefarious or ridiculous reasons? Have they laid off the entire staff? Do they treat their testers poorly? Is the corporate culture rampant with sexist, misogynistic tendencies? What does all of this, any of this, mean as a consumer when all I want to do is shoot some aliens on my TV? I’m glad I tried Destiny, but it really does encompass a whole new world of questions when it comes to the creation of my favorite hobby that I’m not sure I want to confront.

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