Since I’ve been playing so much Destiny lately, I decided it’s about time I wrote up a quick review of it.
I should preface this by saying I did not play the full game before last month. I downloaded the edition which included all available expansions, including The Taken King. This means that I immediately raced from the main story to The Dark Below to House of Wolves to The Taken King, and it all feels very much like the same game to me despite these varying storylines and content produced earlier vs. later. I am also not familiar with how the game’s leveling and rewards worked prior to The Taken King — I just know a few changes were made to improve the game.
Also, no story spoilers here! =)
The Personal Experience
When I started playing Destiny with a partner last month, I could tell right away it was going to be addicting… specifically because I was playing with someone else. (I played the beta alone a couple years ago.) Though you could totally solo much of Destiny and enjoy the settings and gameplay, I would only recommend that for the main storyline, which is several hours long. After that, things get repetitive and hairy, so being partnered up is what keeps it fun.
You have stations where you pick up supplies and new quests, which are packed with other players on the same server as you. Their gamertags float above their characters’ heads. That really broke the sci-fi immersion for me when I played the beta, but this time, I guess I didn’t mind so much. Meanwhile, when you land on a planet for a patrol or story mission, most of the time, you’ll be running into others as you criss-cross paths. The only time you’re totally by yourself (or your personal party) is when you enter a Respawning Restricted area during a story mission.
About the Storytelling…
Destiny‘s stories are unraveled in series of quests that are a little convoluted. I wouldn’t say the storytelling here is very good — sometimes I laughed out loud listening to Cayde rather sarcastically explaining what we needed to do. Things get a lot better in The Taken King expansion, which has a pretty solid storyline that, at the very least, is much easier to follow than the original story.
Still, the world-building is a big part of what makes this place so beautiful. If you ignore some of the more convoluted stuff going on, you have an amazing world to explore. I love the underlying blend of science fiction and fantasy — you have characters wearing light armor with capes, heavy armor that looks almost medieval, and mages who can blast magic almost like it’s a tech power. It’s really unique and cool.
So even if the stories are a little silly, the world-building has real heart… and that style extends to the scenery. I had so much fun racing my Sparrow around the stark powder on the moon, the post-apocalyptic jungles of Venus, and the vast red deserts of Mars. You can read more about these locations in my post about them. I believe the thought and energy put into designing these places paid off immensely, and it’s my number one reason to visit this game at least for awhile. These locations are what make Destiny such an engaging science fiction experience.
The game’s atmosphere is intensified by its soundscape. The Destiny soundtrack has become one of my favorites ever. Whether I’m hearing a fast-paced song with strings and drums during combat or vocal harmonies as I return to the Tower, everything sounds beautiful and cohesive. It’s not your typical thudding, ominous music. It’s not very post-apocalyptic. There are at least a couple of tracks that feature some electronic sounds, which I adore as a sci-fi fan (reminds me of the first Mass Effect soundtrack in some places). But overall, Destiny‘s soundscape is swift and celestial. It feels fitting for an explorer in the stars, and its mood is hopeful.
As for gameplay, this world revolves around the Traveller, a mysterious sphere in the sky that people can use to channel powers — almost like magic. This affects your character class. You can choose to play as a Titan, Hunter, or Warlock. Prepare for some stellar moves, which are not extraordinary on their own (you get grenades, what did you expect?!) but are fun to use and work well because of the world-building they are founded on.
The level cap in Destiny is 40, and it takes about 30 to 40 hours to reach that. For me, that involved playing the entire main storyline and all three DLCs — well, specifically that got me to level 38. You have a progress bar that fills up as you kill enemies and complete missions; each time it fills, you hit a new level. Some gear and armor requires a certain level for you to use it. You also earn progress towards your skill tree, so you can equip new powers as you go. At level 15, you unlock your second skill tree; in The Taken King, you can complete a special mission to unlock a third. It all feels pretty traditional, and I enjoyed it.
The gameplay itself is very rewarding for those first 40 levels. Playing as a Warlock with the “Voidwalker” subclass (that’s the first skill tree for Warlocks), I could toss grenades at enemies, use a melee power that drained enemy health to restore my own, and throw a magic bomb to wipe out whole gangs of mid-level enemies at once. It’s a blast. From what I can tell, other classes are set up similarly. You’ll have a grenade, a melee ability, and a super, all of which have to recharge each time you use them.
Adventures After 40
As for what happens after you hit level 40? I’ve heard people say that’s when Destiny really opens up. Now you can equip the most powerful gear, and instead of worrying about your “level” level, you’re concerned with your Light level. This is based on the gear you equip. A piece of armor or a weapon can increase your Light by a few points, and you want to improve it as you get better gear all the time.
End-game content (much of which is also available before you hit level 40, mind you) revolves around the game’s other modes of play, beyond story missions. These include Strikes (cooperative missions that pair you up in groups of three, if you’re not already playing with someone), Raids (super challenging missions for up to six people, which I haven’t played yet), and of course your PvP in the Crucible. There’s even a cooperative arena mode.
So far, I’ve really enjoyed some of the Strikes I’ve played. Being matched up with another player can be very fun; it’s exciting to see how other people play, and there’s a sense of camaraderie as you succeed together with someone you never met before.
You can also level up your Light by playing the Vanguard playlist, which is a series of Strikes that drop decent gear, as well as the Daily Heroic which is a story mission made more challenging that changes every day. These are just a few examples of how the game encourages you to come back again and again.
Basically, tough missions drop better gear, including Legendary or Exotic gear that you can improve through an Infusion system (dismantling other gear to put into that first gear). These Strikes and Raids come with recommended Light levels, so if your Light is 220, you might not be ready to cheer victory in a 260+ Light Strike. But you can do one for your current Light level, get some cool gear out of it, and see if you can make it to 225, and then 230, and keep on crawling up to take on increasingly challenging missions.
It’s an interesting system, but for me, it doesn’t hold a lot of appeal due to the need for multiplayer. As much as I have enjoyed many Strikes, some days I just don’t feel like tackling a really difficult Strike with a player I don’t know. I’d play an easier Strike or even an old story mission, but then I don’t get anything out of it. To get better gear, I have to play the toughest content, and I have to be “on” enough to do it with other people. Can’t I just have a fun, easy time once in a while, and be antisocial while I’m at it?
That said, I am addicted to getting cool gear. There have been several times when I either got an awesome drop while playing or saw an item from a vendor and just had to have it. Sometimes, items require saving up Legendary Marks or Motes of Light — or just gaining a better rank with the vendor, which is like gaining their loyalty — to purchase things. Since many items are only available from vendors for a limited time, the pressure is on, which makes it fun to come back and play all the time.
I just feel like I’m running out of content. Destiny has a lot of the trappings of an MMO but doesn’t quite work as one.
The good news is that Destiny lets you create three characters and switch between them freely. You can even store items in a Vault to retrieve from any of your characters. For instance, my Warlock purchased a mysterious Legendary Engram and discovered it was armor for a Hunter. So now I can create a Hunter character, and they can equip it. That’s pretty cool. Even without enough content, at least I can replay the old content in (somewhat) fresh ways.
That’s why new characters are probably my destiny with this game. While I still love my Warlock character and will continue to tackle Strikes, Raids, and any cool limited-time content that comes my way, I’ll probably have more fun replaying the storylines with a new character and my co-op partner. Let’s just hope the repetition doesn’t make the game feel too stale.