Destiny: Three Weeks In

This week marked the third week in the life of Destiny, Bungie’s new social shooter for whatever your favorite video game console happens to be. I have been playing since launch day on Sept. 9 and in general, while the game certainly isn’t without its flaws, I’ve enjoyed Destiny quite a bit. This is a massive game that is part of what will hopefully be a massive franchise, so plenty of people have written about it so far; for the most part the things I think works are in line with what plenty of other people think works, and the things I think are frustrating have been ranted about almost ad nauseum in various corners of the Internet. So there likely won’t be much new here other than the fact that I wrote it. 

What works
• It’s a shooter that is challenging to me but doesn’t make me feel that I have to be a spectacular player in order to be successful (up to a point; more on that later). The entirety of the main storyline is soloable and the strike content that has in-game matchmaking is straight-forward enough that random groupings of three people can tacke all of it, so you can experience the main story by yourself. Part of the reason I’ve enjoyed this game so much is that it feels accessible and the cool stuff feels achievable (mostly).

• Visually the game is pretty great. The effort Bungie put into things like the skies is tangible and makes the game better. The four enemy races are all very cool and seem to be well thought-out. The enemy ships, despite the fact that you don’t actually fight them, all have personality — watching Hive tombships pop out of a wormhole, deploy a bunch of bad guys and then vanish into another wormhole is one of my favorite sights in the game. It’s one of those fun details that don’t add anything to the way the game plays, but add a *ton* to the way it feels. It’s one of those things that world builders don’t have to do, but when attention is paid to those kinds of details it makes everything else better. 

• The game’s music is outstanding. I have been tempted to buy the soundtrack on iTunes and I just need to do it. It sets the mood well, especially in combat, and there is a ton of variety. 

• I haven’t played two of the game’s three classes, because I’ve been having so much fun with my warlock. The tech-magician has just worked for me; there’s nothing more fun than jumping off a high point in the game, gliding over a group of bad guys, looking down on their heads and dropping a huge magic bomb on them while still in the air.

• The way the Cabal heads explode when you hit them with precision damage. 

• This isn’t really something that “works” but it doesn’t fit under “what’s frustrating” either, so I’ll put it here — the game’s famously awful story really hasn’t bothered me that much. I kinda bought into one of the first lines of dialogue in the game from your Ghost, “…there will be a lot of things you don’t understand”, knowing that the game was going to evolve over time through expansions and additional content. Some of the things that have come out about the final year or so of Destiny’s development have been interesting, to say the least, and I’m curious to know where things go and how Bungie builds on what’s obviously a very small first step they’ve taken with this game.

What’s frustrating
• The enemy AI and the invisible fences that keep them contained to certain parts of the map often doesn’t make much sense. You can bait enemies into chasing you to a flight of stairs, for instance; you can run to the bottom of the stairs, and they’ll stop in the middle and turn back, returning to their defined playground rather than chase you. Given the shared-world nature of this game this is probably to prevent people from training bosses out of certain zones into the open, but once you figure out that monsters won’t chase you past a certain place it becomes easy to plan ways to exploit this to win certain fights. It turns a number of boss confrontations from intense firefights into simple duck-and-cover midranged shootouts that are legitimately difficult to lose.

• Leveling past the actual “cap” of 20 — the highest level you can attain by gathering experience points — is somewhat frustrating since it’s entirely gear dependent, making you completely at the mercy of drops or long farming grinds. Granted, this makes individual upgrades, when they come, pretty significant as they are a stat boost and can actually level up your character.

• Once you hit level 20, the difficulty curve of the missions varies wildly and in completely unpredictable ways. For example, as a level 23 character I can smash the level 20 daily heroic mission, and a friend of mine and I two-manned a “heroic” difficulty level 22 strike mission that you typically play with three people, but the level 24 Queen’s kill-order missions are a recipe for horiffic and repeated death. 

• Visually there’s not too terribly much distinction between your starter gear at level 1 and your level 20 gear. In games like World of Warcraft, you can look at a character immediately and say “that person has cleared Black Temple many times.” In Destiny, there’s not that immediate “wow” factor when you see another player’s gear. Blizzard got it right in WoW by focusing on helms and shoulders as the visual focus for different tiers of gear (although transmogrification eventually made this less important). Destiny tries some of this, but the only gear that really stands out is the exotic-quality stuff — and you’re limited to wearing one piece of exotic gear that can come from a random world drop or be purchased flat-out from a vendor. So there’s very little way to look at a character and have some sense of where they’ve progressed in the game. There are some raid weapons in Destiny that are unique, but only your primary weapon shows on your character when you’re in the Tower so if you’re like me and your coolest piece of gear is an exotic secondary weapon, nobody sees it unless they inspect you anyway.

• Getting repeatedly one-shotted in the Crucible is the exact opposite of fun. I typically don’t like PvP, but at least when I played WoW I felt like it was possible to be competitive in places like Arathi Basin or Alterac Valley (but I always absolutely hated Warsong Gulch). I’ve never felt like anything but a moving target in the Crucible. 

Overall, though, I have to say that I still am very much enjoying the game. I love that it’s set up in such a way that I can come home for lunch and spend 45 minutes running patrols while I eat a sandwich and feel like I’ve accomplished something meaningful toward a long-term goal. And although I have historically hated replaying content once I’ve cleared it, the shooting mechanics in this game are so fun that the repetitive nature of the content hasn’t burned me out yet. I’m definitely looking forward to the two expansions, although I wish we didn’t have to wait until December for the first one.

Andy Bartlett

By day, I am the executive director of communications and marketing at Bemidji State University. The rest of the time, I'm a husband, father of three, and proponent of super heroes, lasers, space ships and explosions.

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