Video Game Review: Destiny (PS3)

Game: Destiny

Version: PS3

What I played: The story mode, no downloads, teensy bit of online fightin’, a little over a year after it was released.

Destiny is a 1st person shooter that is taking your internet bandwith by storm. All the kids are into it, going into space and pretending to be cloaked do-gooders fighting bad guys and raiding for…stuff.

I played the demo a little while ago and thought I’d give it another whirl after playing DC Universe Online. DCU Online seems interesting, and it was free, but I was annoyed by having to download so much material (like overnight, almost the whole night), followed by fighting itty bitty bad guys on one block in Gotham and then stumbling into another block and getting killed by a baddie a dozen levels or so higher. Not to mention some other elements that I just had no interest in following up on game wise, such as not knowing if a mission was finished or not, and getting lost in the Justice League’s stupid satellite. (I’m paraphrasing, but I think Martian Manhunter tells you that it keeps society away from the heroes. Elitist, fascist baloney.) If I’m going to waste time playing a video game where I’m a superhero, I want to do Ledge Takedowns and use remote control batarangs to solve puzzles. Otherwise, I want to blow stuff up.

And from what I had remembered with the Destiny demo, you get to do that with new friends you will probably never meet in real life. It’s a MMO first person shooter. Many games have an opportunity for people to meet you on a mission, or to fight against each other…but Destiny is different…uh…yeah, that’s not my thing. I want batarangs and being Gotham’s sole protector of the night. No, I don’t want to join you on a raid.

I had resisted playing 1st person shooters, right up until I got a free download of Borderlands 2, and holy cow what a fun violent game. I mean, eww, violence is BAD. No, but I enjoyed it immensely, to the point where I bought a “season pass” for four additional story missions. Outside of that, I’ve not spent a second online with it, either playing with someone on a level, or on any online Player Vs. Player fighting (if it even exists). I’m just not interested!

So, what’s special about Destiny, nearly 400 words later? Uh, it’s beautiful, that’s for sure. Even the moon (our moon), is a really pretty place in video game land. Kudos to the art team who designed these places, the levels, the backgrounds. I’d love to visit the rusty industrial wasteland in Russia that’s in this game. I’d love to walk around there except one of the first things I learned while playing Destiny is that exploring is BAAAAD.

Space Junkyard Russia, your introductory level, is full of buildings and warehouses and factories and bunkers. There’s also ships (boats) stuck on plateaus, things like that. And each is accessible to each other. So, once I went down a staircase on one of those boats while I was on a mission. The missions weren’t timed, why not explore? I just beat a bunch a baddies, I see some red lights on the radar, time to teach some more alien monsters a lesson, right?

But no, these guys just rip you to shreds once they see you, if you can’t get out of there fast enough. They must be there for players who downloaded expansion packs and are on your server. Because it’s all online. You can’t fully explore during your game or you’ll get killed by someone else’s game elements, that are always there waiting for you.

(There’s literally one screechy bad guy sleeping in a corner in a building in Russia as you tear through 20 similar screechy bad guys. You clear the room, there’s another red light on your radar, so you creep over to the corner and the bad guy is sleeping, and you shoot him, he glows red, and kills you in one swipe. And then when you respawn and head back to the room? He’s BLOCKING the exit. Jeez.)

And you HAVE to play online. You have to be plugged in. Which brings me to my own personal hell with this game: when I started replaying it (I bought the regular, no frills version of the game), either my connection died half the time or Bungie’s servers timed out. I had this game for a WEEK and most of the evenings spent playing the game were wasted if not for reading random things on the internet between long menu restart sessions.

And often I’d be taken to the beginning menu, and have to choose my character again. Thankfully there’s a few parts in some of the short missions where, when I was booted, it put me back a few steps behind, but often I’d be at the very beginning of a level…and I mean OFTEN, with long load up times.

I hope no one experienced this as often as I do. I am certainly not going to boost my internet service just to play the story mode of this game. Why, and seriously WHY, can’t I just play this regular game, and if the internet falters or if Bungie isn’t interested in keeping me on their server, just upload my game progression once I’ve finished?

No story mode part of the game did I need any help from online strangers (though the occasional person helped as they passed through). I also leveled up quickly, at least as far as the story mode was concerned, because I’d get SO FAR on a level, get booted, have to start over, but the experience points and weapons I won carried over and BOOM I’d be a level 7 on a level 3 adventure. I think level 20 is what the game originally allowed the player to max out at, but I finished the game (story mode, minus a few side missions and raids) somewhat easily in the mid-20’s.

One of the goals is to reach level 15, because then you get the opportunity to build up another skill tree. So after your character gains abilities to double jump (or glide), throw awesome explosion bolt thingys, stuff like that…well, the skill tree you open up is blank. Choose it, and you’ll have to level up again to do the double jump. WHAT? Why can’t you just have the ability to throw a different grenade?

And why just ONE grenade at a time? Use it once, you have to wait for the one grenade to respawn. Considering that portions of the game including waves of bad screechy guys running at you at once, that’s poopy.

The weapons? If you have a preference, pick it, use it, stay with it. Because seriously, I made it through the whole game using the Scout Rifle (plus some of the charge weapons and heavy machine gun for the bigger bad guys). The designers gave the guns quite the recoil kick. I found the Scout Rifle to have the best power, aim, and recoil combination. I love Sniper Rifles in 1st person shooter games, and there’s one in this one, but seriously no one is ever far enough for you to use anything other than your main weapon. At least that’s what I discovered with the Scout Rifle. There are a few “upgrades,” such as more stability and the occasional damage boost, but these become null once you find or buy a weapon with higher ratings.**

There’s a level on the moon where you get to use a sword for a tiny bit and it’s pretty awesome; I have no idea if the sword is usable for other levels, or if I even still had it after the one time. I don’t even know what the purpose of the sword was in the story of the game, and that’s my weak segue to: what was the story again?

I don’t even think this game was written. “Is that Bill Nighy?” I said to myself as a non-playable character gives my character the next mission. The next question was “what is Bill Nighy saying that has anything to do with anything?” You have to find the Light (pieces of The Traveler, a giant sphere that…uh…) to fight the Darkness, which I’m not even sure is an evil entity that shows up. If so, where? Is it the “taken,” the shadowy monster things that possess the regular bad guys of certain areas? Why is that not more of a presence in the initial game? It’s one of the best parts, especially when there are other players passing through that area independently of you, creating opportunities for some kick ass co-op adventure on the spot.

The enemies? …blah. This is the first game I’ve played where the bad guys became less challenging as the game went on. And it’s not just because of that quick power-upping I experienced; the initial fodder are running around, hiding behind things, all coming at you. Every new group of bad guys on this planet or the next seem to do less, with no surprises. They might be slightly more powerful. I was shocked to turn a corner and see three robot bad guys FACING A WALL. Like, I was a blip on THEIR radar, so they just stared at the wall where I once was as I made my way to their area. And this happened more than once.

(See, The Blair Witch Project was this movie where…)

Any 8 bit troop you face in Metroid or Super Mario is more interesting than any of the bad guys here.  I channeled Roger Ebert as I wondered about the rank & file you bump into and shoot: these are advanced civilizations kicking humanity’s ass, they travelled far away and developed such amazing technology, and all they do is screech or gurgle before attacking you. Even the robot race. Even the ROBOTS.

That’s why I love Borderlands 2. Handsome Jack? What a charismatic villain! Even if he’s just a video game villain, he has the best lines. The rank & file bad guys, all of whom attack you? They say stuff. They have lines. They have nothing to lose as they pass from this mortal coil, and they let you know. And it’s great.

The characters who assist you in Destiny? Not much better. There’s a mysterious character who shows up and tells you “I don’t even have time to explain why I don’t have time to explain.” There was a patrol mission that can’t even give you vague directions. “Your Ghost (guide) will give you the information.” There’s a queen on the edge of an asteroid belt (our asteroid belt) and her brother who have some sort of test and scheme to use you…I think? Maybe it comes up later. Maybe all the gobbledypoop comes up later when you download future adventures.

I actually turned the volume down and put on some music when I blitzed through some levels (they seem awfully short, not counting the times I was bounced out of the game online) and I know I missed nothing. Shoot some screechy aliens, let your guide scan things, shoot more aliens, go to the “city” to check out the gear you picked up, maybe get a mission that takes you directly to the next part of the “story,” uh…it doesn’t matter.

If it was just vague sci-fi exposition (and it’s not even exposition…nothing anyone says tells you what to do, or if there’s anything you need to figure out from the dialogue on what to do next), that’d be one thing. But there’s some insultingly bad SCIENCE going on here, especially when you are transported to Venus. Ever been to Venus? No, but a few Russian landers have, and it did NOT end well for them. So maybe in the future it’s been terraformed. Maybe it looks like a South American slum. But your guide tells you that some of these structures were built by Venus civilizations BILLIONS of years before humanity…ugh, NO. That’s not even POSSIBLE. I’ll give a pass that there’s regular video game gravity on the Moon. Maybe the aliens terraformed it. There are alien races trying to kill me, a resurrected robot thing running around and shooting thing. Science FICTION. Heaven forbid you include some SCIENCE in it.

I played some of the Player Vs. Player battles. I joined a few raids and surprise “events” taking place near the missions I was on, and there are spaces in nearly every planet you go to where the “Taken” show up and give everyone their money’s worth. That’s where this game shines, and even with what I feel are limited weapon choices, these kind of battles are challenging and fun to fight.

Is it a good game? Sigh: no. If the downloadable content has a story, I’ll take your word for it, but I’m not intrigued. I’ve found better role playing upgrade potential in games like Ratchet & Clank. If there’s more to do online, hooray (and I know of plenty of players having an absolute blast).

Is it worth it? If you like the online play. I definitely enjoyed the online teaming up. I forgot all my complaints as these events were going on, even the tough events where my character was outclassed.

What else could I have been doing with this time? Anything. I could have been doing anything at all. I wasn’t amused or entertained by the story. My personal experience is hopefully rare compared to the rest of the people playing Destiny, but most of my time was spent waiting for the game to restart after getting booted. I bought it a WEEK ago, and played it almost every night. If I excised the amount of time WAITING as the game restarted, well, I’d have finished the “story” in about two sitting sessions.

Check out a demo and see for yourself. You’ll have a little bit of video game fun.

**One of the things I enjoy about Borderlands 2 is the variety of guns: there’s a ton. There are thousands of options, actually. It’s ridiculous. I haven’t been able to explore every nook and cranny, I haven’t been on many raids, and I haven’t bought any downloads, but after 29 levels I’ve only been able to use a few kinds of each gun in this game, with upgrades adding little especially if you found a better weapon.

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