Current Status: approximately 6-8 hours in, rolling a level 8 female Titan. I’ve ventured beyond the content from the beta, and am currently stuck in the 2nd story mission on the Moon.
I know, I know – just a few days ago I said I probably wouldn’t end up writing one of these posts for Destiny. But I was out sick yesterday, and ended up spending a bit more time with it than I’d anticipated.
Before I get started, I suppose it’s only fair to get my biases out of the way: I have played and finished Halo 1-3 and Reach, but did not finish ODST. (I didn’t finish Halo 4, either, but that’s a 343 Studios title.) I have always found the Halo games – specifically the single-player campaigns – to be competent console shooters; fun in parts, frustrating in others, saddled with narratives that take themselves far too seriously. Yes, Halo is important for making shooters viable and playable on consoles; but while the action is certainly capable, I’ve always found the stuff that surrounds it to be lacking.
I’ve dabbled in the multiplayer here and there, but I’m simply not good enough to compete in any meaningful way (at least with strangers), and so I don’t pay that much attention to it.
I didn’t play the Destiny alpha, but I did play the beta, and I thought the beta was pretty remarkable; it was gorgeous, the moment-to-moment action felt quite good, even if the missions weren’t terribly innovative; the narrative was a bit opaque, but I wasn’t necessarily paying attention to it, as that wasn’t what the beta was about. Ultimately, while I’d already pre-ordered the game, the beta made me feel like I’d spent my money wisely.
“You can hear every penny that went into making this thing so oppressively shiny, but you can’t hear any of the force of passion that supposedly caused those songs to come into being in the first place.”
The above quote is taken from Stereogum’s Premature Evaluation of U2’s “Songs of Innocence”, the album that Apple gave away for free to every iTunes member just a few days ago. It also happens to sum up my feelings about Destiny pretty accurately; Destiny is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and it’s clear that a tremendous amount of hard work went into making this thing a true AAA blockbuster, but it’s also utterly devoid of soul.
You will traverse through meticulously detailed environments which, for all their minute graphical touches, feel uncannily empty. You will engage in missions that ultimately boil down to “kill this many enemies” or “kill enough enemies to pick up this many collectibles” or “kill enemies until a certain amount of time has passed” or “kill all the enemies, and then the boss.”
It’s a good thing that the shooting feels as good as it does, because it goes a very long way towards making this stuff feel less tedious than it ordinarily would.
Part of the tedium is due to the writing, which is bad and/or bland and/or lazy. I reiterate my earlier comments about Peter Dinklage – yes, his performance is startlingly bad, but his dialogue is dreadful, and there’s only so much you can do with what ultimately boils down to badly written exposition. Why would you hire an actor of Dinklage’s considerable talents to speak such boring drivel? Why would you constrain him to such a limited range? I noted this bad writing during the beta, but it also didn’t necessarily bother me all that much because I wasn’t really paying attention to it. Here, though, in its final retail form, I have to pay attention to it because it gives me the context to do whatever it is I’m doing, and I simply don’t care.
The Darkness is the enemy. But there’s also the Hive, and the Fallen, which may or may not be the same thing? It’s not really explained. I don’t know why I’m shooting these things other than that they generally shoot at me first.
Then again, who am I? In Halo, I was Master Chief, a not-nearly-as-enigmatic-as-they-intended soldier with an iconic uniform and a purpose. In Destiny, I am… a long-dead (but fully customizable) person who is resurrected at the beginning of the game (without any context) and who is tasked with being a Guardian to attempt to ward off the Darkness’ inevitable victory. Yes – in the beginning of the game, you are told that the Darkness will win. I will bet you one shiny nickel that at the end of the campaign, the Darkness will not have achieved victory.
Narrative incoherence aside, the game is just kinda weird. It’s ostensibly a sci-fi shooter with RPG elements. You’re not doing any role-playing, though – indeed, you hardly speak, even in cutscenes; and as far as loot goes, well, take it from a dude who just finished Diablo III for the second time – the loot is barely there. You’ll pick up slightly better weapons and armor as you play, but you won’t necessarily notice any real difference. (And yet there are all sorts of cosmetic changes you can make to your armor, even though this is a first-person shooter and you can’t actually see any of it.)
Perhaps my biggest pet peeve – and this is something that was highly relevant yesterday, when I was home, feeling dreadfully ill and frequently needing to get off the couch – is that you can’t pause gameplay. If you need to stop playing for any reason, your only options are to either hide in a corner and hope that no enemies respawn near you, or to summon a menu that removes you from the playing field and puts you “in orbit”, which is essentially a pre-mission lobby. If you’re in a story mission, you have to restart it from the beginning. This is all because the game really wants you to play online, but unless you’re doing multiplayer stuff, why can’t you pause and enter some sort of safe, invisible place? In single-player/coop, you can’t grief anybody (as far as I can tell), nor is there any friendly fire. It doesn’t make any sense, and it can be incredibly inconvenient.
Ultimately, what we have here is a highly polished shooter without a heart or soul. There is nothing controversial about it; it takes no risks. You’re on a desperate mission to save Earth; but we’ve done this before, and the game’s fiction is barely explained. Sure, you can create your own character, but “you” have no personality, you make no choices, you have no literal voice except for the grunting you do when you jump. Your enemies are bland and generic in appearance, calling to mind enemy design in both Halo and Mass Effect (in the latter, I refer specifically to the Thrall, who are basically fast-moving Husks). Your own weaponry is largely familiar (even in the future, you’re still firing bullets) – and the enemy arsenal is also familiar (especially as some of the enemies are essentially using Halo’s Needler).
What’s worrisome about Destiny is what it represents; this is the sort of mindless AAA blockbuster that #GamerGate purports to want, a game ostensibly free from gender and race politics, a game that you play instead of talk about. As it happens, there’s very little about Destiny that warrants any discussion.