Review | 9/15/2014 at 12:04 PM

Destiny Co-Op Review

Potential in game form.

Destiny is here, and now we can see what Bungie, unshackled from being a Halo factory, has in store for us. Perhaps unsurprisingly, despite it being an entirely online game, it feels an awful lot like Halo, except it stars space wizards.

Bungie won't call Destiny an MMO, but it sure has a lot of the trappings of one. Let's check them off, shall we?

Leveling your character is largely a means to reaching the glorious Endgame. Said Endgame is primarily a loot chase, to render formerly difficult content meaningless in difficulty. There are a plethora of different currencies to acquire and faction reputation to grind to acquire said loot. The loot is color-coded based on quality. The PVP involves bringing in your character with its gear and abilities (though normalized damage), so players with better gear or more ability options can overcome skill gaps. You're going to spend a lot of time doing instanced content in the form of Strikes and Raids to acquire even more gear. There's a dance command.

Did I miss anything?

You begin the game by being resurrected by your Ghost, voiced by Peter Dinklage, whose performance is, well, appropriately robotic. You learn that you are a Guardian, who must protect the last of the human race from The Darkness, a series of races hell-bent on destroying both humanity and The Traveler, whose light gave us the ability to travel beyond the stars and access to Citadel space via the Mass Relays. I may be crossing games here. Put simply, there are bad guys and you need to put bullets in their heads.

And you will do that, and because Bungie crafts some of the best console FPS action out there, it feels good. Real good. Shooting things in Destiny is remarkably entertaining, even if the enemy AI doesn't approach the quality of their previous efforts in the Halo series. I suppose making the entire game multiplayer at (nearly) all times meant sacrifices needed to be made, but it's a little disappointing.

There are three character classes in Destiny - the Titan, Hunter and Warlock, with each containing two subclasses for you to choose from, though you will need to level one character to 15 in order to unlock selecting between them for all of your characters. Strangely, every class can use every single weapon type, so differences between them come from the abilities they acquire along the way.

Each subclass has its own skill tree which slowly unlocks nodes as you gain XP. Each class will earn a Grenade ability, a movement ability, a special melee attack and a super attack, each of which can be altered (sometimes significantly) by other selections you can make in the skill tree. For instance, my Warlock's super attack, Nova Bomb, can be split into three separate projectiles via the Shatter perk. My Glide ability can be turned into a short-range teleport via Blink, and so on.

You earn gear by completing story missions or finding it in chests, and for most of the game your stats will simply alter cooldowns on your various abilities. Unfortunately, for the bulk of the game (pre-level 16 or so), it's not very interesting, and you can just put on what cools down the ability you like most, and what does the most damage. It should be noted that later on, your gear also starts having skills you can unlock, such as choosing between faster reload times or less recoil.

The game is rather loosely structured. As you advance through the campaign, you'll find that you can select many missions in any order you like, so long as you meet the level requirements. Your character can earn XP via playing competitive multiplayer as well, so people who dabble in that might find themselves wondering which mission to pick. You can also choose to Patrol a given planet, which places you in an entirely open world, completing randomly-generated missions you acquire from blinking communication devices scattered around. An NPC in the Tower provides bounties, which are fun side goals for you to achieve, such as killing a specific elite enemy, or earning 9000 experience without dying.

There are also Strike missions, which are Destiny's version of a dungeon instance in your standard MMO. You'll be matched up with two other players if you're not already in a Fireteam, and take on much tougher groups of enemies and a large boss or two. Personally, I loved these, as they require a little more teamwork than the average FPS, though a lot of people seem to feel like the bosses require too much damage to take down. Your opinion may vary.

Similar to a lot of modern MMOs, there are also public events that happen while you're out in the world. Most of them involve dropping a large boss or defending a point from waves of enemies, but they're great fun. Unfortunately, as of this writing they happen too infrequently. However, Bungie has said that they will increase how often they occur in the future.

There's actually a lot of co-op to be had with Destiny, but most of it will be incidental, with other players in the world who are in the same area as you. There are shades of Journey here, as you have no choice of who shows up in your game, and you can choose to hang around them or let them strike out on their own. The servers seems to cycle players in and out constantly, and it never stopped being weird to see a player disappear from your game if they moved just a little too far away from you.

This could be prevented if there were a better mechanism to invite random players to your Fireteam, but it feels awkward, and if their privacy settings are set, you won't be able to invite them at all. There's also no way to voice chat with players who aren't in your Fireteam. I suppose the game would be utter chaos if there were some kind of proximity chat, but it could make Fireteam invitations go so much more smoothly. Luckily, for Strike missions there's matchmaking, and since you'll spend a lot of time doing them later, that's a very good thing.

Destiny also supports in-game clans, but bizarrely, there's no place in the UI to show your clan roster or see their online status, necessitating out-of-game communication if they're not directly on your chosen platform's friend list.

Coming from the studio who gave us the strong, story-centric campaigns of the Halo series, it's shocking how little of it there is in Destiny. Aside from your Ghost's constant technobabble, I counted four moments in the game where it actually utilized other characters to advance the story, including the opening of the game and its ending. There is actually quite a bit of worldbuilding done for Destiny's setting, but nearly all of it is buried in the Grimoire, a series of collectible cards that are only accessible via the game's website or companion app.

In fact, if you didn't ever use or the Destiny Companion app, you probably wouldn't know that the Grimoire cards actually level up, and begin to provide passive bonuses to all of your characters in different ways, depending on the card type. For instance, if you level your pulse rifle card up, it grants all your characters double XP towards unlocking upgrades on their pulse rifles. Locations begin to grant twice the resources each time you harvest a node. I really enjoy the game's minimalist UI, but I can't help but feel they could have added a way to view the Grimoire in-game somehow, either via a terminal in the Tower or in a pre-login menu.

The campaign missions also leave a lot to be desired, as there is very little variety throughout. Aside from one mission which involved you picking up a legendary sword and beating the crap out of elite enemies with it, nearly every mission involved bringing your Ghost to a place in the level to scan, or bringing it to a place in the level to scan while you fight off waves of enemies. Though the areas themselves are excellent combat arenas and the scenery is gorgeous, it began to grate on me that I ended up playing Horde mode a dozen (or more) times by the end.

Luckily, the campaign is not where you'll spend most of your time in Destiny, especially once you hit higher levels. At level 18, you will unlock the Strike Playlist, which offers matchmaking to take on a random Strike mission, with extra gear and Vanguard Marks as a reward.

Once you hit level 20, you also unlock the ability to find gear that has a new stat on it: Light. Light allows your character to gain levels beyond the soft cap - for every 20 points of Light your gear has on it, you will gain one extra level. You'll also be able to redo any of the story content with enemies scaling up to a level threshold you set. If you're beyond the level cap a bit, you can even play Heroic versions of the campaign levels, which have unique effects added - similar to activating Skulls in a Halo game.

Basically, level 20 is where the ‘endgame' unlocks and you'll generally have more options of things to do, all of which revolve around either continuing to unlock abilities for your chosen subclass, grinding for Vanguard/Crucible marks to obtain better gear, or farming reputation for the various factions that live around the Tower. Until the first Raids open up (the first one opens on the 16th), you're restricted to redoing an awful lot of content you've already consumed. Personally, that's fine by me because I thought that the Strikes were fun, but it may not be everybody's cup of tea. There are also daily and weekly challenges, and of course you can still take on bounties.

In retrospect, it's kind of sad that the pre-level 20 gear isn't very interesting, since none of it feels essential. However, the endgame gear not only requires you stack Light, but most of it has a mix of several stats in addition, making the decision a little more difficult. Obviously you want as much Light as possible. For a veteran MMO player, this problem is all-too familiar as most games have trouble striking a good balance between leveling gear and endgame gear. Welcome to the party, Destineers.

Destiny is an undeniably well-crafted game, and one I'm enjoying quite a bit, but I can't help but feel like Bungie played it very safe. There's an excellent framework here for future content, and Bungie is already very well-known for post-launch support. Hopefully new content will be added via patches over time, and the "expansion" content will do more to flesh out the story and world.

Jason's Thoughts

I was hooked on Destiny after the alpha and still pretty excited after the beta. When at last the game arrived and I started playing through the same content I had done before, I couldn't wait to see what was next. Then I got it; the result was definitely not what I was expecting. Stagnant loot drop until after level 15, co-op missions (Strikes) that felt overly hard and dull unless you were leveled far beyond the "first available at X" level (with gear to match), and a story that was so fragmented that Terry Gilliam would have a tough time stitching it together. All of this is interspersed with some moments of truly great co-op play and a solid framework for what could be more. As it stands now, if you're still on the fence about buying Destiny, wait a month or two. See what comes from Bungie and additional patches/content. Diablo 3 wasn't quite the game we remembered from Diablo 2, but it got there in the end. If you own Destiny and aren't sure about pushing on, get to the endgame (if you're not there already) - that's the breaking point. You'll either see the potential and slug on through, or wonder what Bungie was thinking and wait for the Halo: Master Chief Collection to come out.

Nick's Thoughts

If you read our review and many other reviews of Destiny, there's a lot of time and effort put into comparing it to other genres of games. Is it an MMOs? RPG? Shooter? Reviewers tend to try to tell you how it fails or succeeds at matching the quality available in each of these genres. The reality is - when a game borrows bits and pieces from other genres to create itself, those pieces will never be identical or be as good as what's available in the respective genre. A recipe should be judged not on the list of ingredients, but on the entire dish created from it. Ingredients serve different purposes in different recipes.

Instead Destiny forges its own path, it's a next-generation game because it's trying to do something different in a different way. It writes its own rules for an online action game. It blends single player, co-op and PvP through various game systems. Does it present its story clearly and concisely? Not exactly; it doesn't feel as Hollywood as we've seen from Bungie in the past, but rather maybe something more akin to their Marathon style of games. Discovering through exploration both in game and out.

Destiny is a perfect example of what games are slowly becoming today. You simply can't judge a game based on it's day one or even day 30 state. Games are increasingly dynamic in both content, structure and polish. As Jason said, look at Diablo 3 for the perfect example of this. You need to examine the potential a game has to see if it's worth your almighty dollar. Destiny is ripe with potential and Bungie has rarely not delivered. The first set of content and changes are already live. But based on what's there now, it might be tough to hold gamers' attentions long enough until it reaches that state.

The Co-Optimus Review for Destiny was written after evaluating the Playstation 4 version of the game.