Destiny – Two Weeks On

 

It’s been two weeks since Destiny burst forth into our lives and a week since the scores of reviews had their say on its confusing story and absolute beauty. So how have we all got on since we took our critical hats off and got down to playing the game for ourselves?

Well, frankly, excellently frustrating. That would be my two word comment. I got very lucky not long after our review was published and I got a legendary weapon drop. A Grim Citizen III auto rifle. This thing has been a fantastic help for all the missions I’ve played due to its power and I achieved level 24 very quickly… That’s when it stopped. Of course it can be done, as demonstrated by Twitch streamer N3AC3Y who not long ago became the first person to achieve level 30. But the road to light and legendary gear is filled with the grind of death.

Personally, this isn’t a terribly bad thing once you do something. This is something that you really need to let go of in order to actually accept the game’s MMO properties, and that is to realise that it isn’t Halo. It may feel like Halo, there may be sounds you recognise like the health bar regenerating and its low health alarm noise. There are even nods to Bungie’s former goliath on Mars with a Master Chief helmet shaped outpost (By the way, kudos to the person who found the Destiny easter egg in Halo 3: ODST. That made me grin a very large satisfying grin). But it isn’t Halo and you soon realise that, to coin phrases I hear on YouTube videos, the grind is real.

The reason I say that it isn’t a bad thing is because, compared to my experiences on World of Warcraft, EVE Online and other MMO’s, I’m actually having quite a lot of fun for the most part shooting the crap out of many heads/bodies/eyeballs in order to collect my bounties. The problem has come from how many times I’ve had to do the same missions to collect these on various difficulties. In fact around half of the strike missions now can be easily traversed within 10-15 minutes if you’ve got a good team. But the frequency of the drops of legendary gear, or higher light level armour at the least, is incredibly frustrating. Games like WoW have so much wikipedia presence that you could probably take a good guess at the available loot in a dungeon and what it will do to help you progress further, therefore choosing your experience to help you level how you want to or need to. Destiny does not have that.

There have been farming points noted by people, like the cave in the Skywatch area of the Cosmodrome which is a glorious alcove of drops, and doing the strike playlists help you to get those Vanguard Marks so you can buy the gear. But for the most part, it can be a long and repetitive struggle to up your level to a point where you can now do a raid… I haven’t yet been able to do a raid. There are lots of cool things that Bungie are doing though to keep our interest. The new Queen’s Wrath bounties (her of the strange Rift throne and jerk brother) give you another different way to collect tailored legendary loot outside of the crucible factions. There’s the now traditional “kill the devs” multiplayer fun which will earn you specific emblem kudos. My friend got an Exotic bounty randomly which will grant him a legendary or exotic item upon completion. So there are things there but personally, having been stuck at level 24 for nearly a week, the lack of progression is frustrating.

Which is why I think I’d have liked better rewards for finding the Golden Chests that are scattered about the four playable planets. Some are easier than others to find but more often than not, the loot is only a slight bit better than if you found normal chests. Another issue is the lack of anything in vast swathes of the Venus and Mars maps. Bungie have been excellent at utilising the space in other games to hide different things and, even though you can find the Ghosts for Grimoire rewards, there is a lot of places where sneaky and useful things could have been hidden. This is made all the more frustrating by the repetitive nature of the strike playlists at times. There’s only so many ways you can play the Summoning Pits on the Moon for only level 16 decoherent engrams when you’re a high level on a high level difficulty. Speaking of maps, I’ve found the lack of in-play maps to be quite frustrating too. Just to know generally where you are on a map, or where you’d like to go would be quite the addition. It’s a bit of a personal niggle because I enjoy looking at where I am when free roaming a world but the only accessible map is the tower map and that’s in the tower. I think we could do with some of the planets too.

Destiny’s patch updates have nerfed some of the difficulty in removing some ultras from the game. I’ll be honest, when I was starting at a lower level I agree that this probably needed to happen. And if my fireteam suddenly becomes two people instead of three then it does make quite large portions of high level strike missions incredibly difficult. But it is a bit sad because when you do have a challenge and your team pull together and create some kind of unspoken unity and tactics, even without voice chat and via random matchmaking, it feels very satisfying. So to lose those harder people is a bit sad. It’s a shame the game couldn’t just adapt its own difficulty dependent on the amount of people playing as well as their level but I’m guessing that’s a super technical thing to do so if nerfing is the answer then so be it.

Another thing that I have needed yet seem unable to find in drops is the Ascendant Energy needed to upgrade my super cool gun. I’ve got the high level drop of Ascendent Shards coming out of my ears but unless I find a random public event and get a daily reward, I seem unable to get them. I don’t know if this is because my level is too high so the game drops it less due to it being a lower level item, or if I’m not playing on the right difficulty level to get it. But suffice to say I’ve been six days into the final upgrades to my weapon without the energy I need and, whilst it shouldn’t be easy, it shouldn’t be this hard either.

I think when I’m playing Destiny with my friends and talking about it over our fireteam chat, the one thing that stands out is its potential. Whilst we have all these little niggles to what we feel is an excellent shooting game when we’re playing it, we still see the large areas where cool things could happen. Not where it could improve or where things could be nerfed. In fact the frequency of higher level drops is the only real gaming niggle at this stage that I really have. For all our moaning about the story, or to be more precise the lack of it, the game is more enjoyable to play at this stage because there isn’t any story in the narrative sense and you don’t even care about it anymore. If someone had just got this game, I’d say complete the story. Grind it out a little bit just to up your level and get the “things you have to do” element of it done as quickly and as smoothly as possible. Yes it’s a confusing story but in the scheme of Destiny’s later game, the one you’ll ultimately spend the most time doing, it is of practically no consequence and for your level, you’ll get a cool gun at the end. That maybe a slightly strange bit of advice when coming to a game, especially a Bungie one, but in a way the lack of narrative keeps the end game so open that we don’t really get closure and feel like we want stop playing. I have no idea if that is what was intended but in my case, that’s what they’ve achieved.

The game is still beautiful though so I’d recommend it purely for that and, two weeks on, I still want to play. I still want to max out my two subclasses, I’m still hunting trophies and despite the grind and the lack of drops for me. But that fact that I’ve managed to sink nearly two and a half days of total play in to Destiny, I can see myself staying for a long time. And if you have a group of friends that you can play with, or you have some fun experiences with a small randomly matched team and complete various missions, that is when Destiny is at its best. Because after all, there’s nothing better than having a dance off at the tower or between your friends after a successful strike.

Destiny – Review

Destiny is quite possibly the most ambitious console game we have seen, other than Grand Theft Auto V. Quite the statement I know, especially given what you have already read elsewhere. The traditional review calls for positives followed by negatives and then a summary. But I think what is needed more is some objective input on those negatives that we’ve heard.

The first thing I will mention though is the story. It is not very good and, despite everything I’m about to point out, it is fragmented too much in its linear progression to hold the attention of you, the player, during the minimal times where we get expositional dialogue. The exposition is garbled and that is because it is trying to convey a lot of information and lore far too quickly. It makes Peter Dinklage’s Ghost sound as apathetic as Robert Webb doing TV advert voiceovers. It sadly makes Bill Nighy as wooden as Michael Gambon’s Gandal-Doore Prophet in Elder Scrolls Online. But once again, out of all the well-known voices in this game, it is Bungie regular Nathan Fillion of Firefly/Castle/Halo fame providing some amusing and enjoyable sound bytes.

In its defence however, and I suppose to play devils advocate a bit, Destiny’s story is a very complex and intriguing experiment in creating a universe, not a linear narrative story. The company that brought us many Halo’s will always have a torch held against it to produce compelling single player narrative. This game doesn’t actually set out to do that except for establishing you in its universe. The stories are your own to make and whilst the back drop of galactic war and Dune-esque family creepiness in the Awoken give you a sense of a history, the game leaves you completely in charge of how you experience it. Which is quite the gamble when you think about it, but it works once you’ve leveled up enough to get some good gaming time with your friends. It’s also worth pointing out that I cannot think of an original MMO IP which has a decent story or hint of a narrative. Remember, the Warcraft universe had been going for 10 years before WoW. Lord of The Rings, Elder Scrolls, D&D, Star Trek, even DC Universe, all had long established canon and lore before an MMO license came along.

What I’m saying is, yes the story is a bit droll and lacks any kind of empathy to its characters. But it isn’t designed to do that from what I can tell. It’s not an excuse for lackluster dialogue though, which I’m sure is hurting Dinklage as much as it is the creative team at Bungie.

The universe that they have created is visually spectacular. Bungie’s application of lighting and atmospherics has never been in question, regardless of if you liked or disliked Halo. The next generation of consoles finally has a champion of graphical power and beauty. Little inclusions that you’d never think about make this game incredibly immersive. If you’re on the moon and you look at the International Space Station debris long enough, you’ll see a few satellites flying over. You’ll also see the Earth experience its dynamic night/day cycle. The Mercury Crucible map is a great example of a map with real environmental challenges and a glorious Sun enveloping the landscape. Venus’s terraformed world with its abandoned buildings are a thing that Bungie have done for a long time, and they excel at it here. The difference between the Xbox One and PS4 versions is negligible even to the tech wizards at Digital Foundry, thanks to the freedom of memory from Kinect. It is, in a word, beautiful.

Of course you end up playing little games to yourself as well, exploring the world and trying to find little things that amuse you. I like to listen to the soundtrack, which has Marty O’Donnell all over it, and try and find where new composers have tried to make their mark. They haven’t. O’Donnell’s trademark use of soft brass instruments with choral arrangements and string based tension heighteners, completely eclipse the other music in the game, despite their efforts sounding like a decent homage to Murray Gold’s Doctor Who work. But the sound design itself is incredible. The guns sound amazing and sometimes it’s chaotic and frenetic trying to have a party chat whilst the destruction around you is filling the audio channels. My favourite part so far is not only discovering that your Swallow has a reverse warning noise like a car, but that when one goes past you like that, you get a Doppler effect from it. It’s some amazing attention to detail.

The game itself is an experimental hybrid between MMO, RPG and FPS that few have achieved. Borderlands does, without the scale of the online element, Call of Duty does, without the RPG element. Destiny, in my opinion from the game play point of view, completely achieves the fusion they were looking for. Vast areas to explore with different enemies, excellent replay value, well designed multiplayer modes and levels, fun to use guns and an excellent leveling system that allows you to really play your own way and use what you want to achieve that. The quest for Legendary and Exotic items will keep people playing more than they’ll admit and from that point of view, Bungie have got the basics of this game nailed.

The criticisms of the game though are well known and, I hope, easily addressed. The 3-person size fire team limit is too small. But the Crucible can handle a 6-person fireteam and the maps handle multiple teams, so I’m sure that the number of people can be increased. Even if it is by one, that’d still be great. I’d like to add another niggle though and that’s the lack of loadouts. The difference in the style of play between levels, and the PvE to PvP modes, are great and allow you to use multiple weapons effectively for different things. But the inability to save a set of weapons and quickly change to them is a pain. Especially when you forget and have to spend about a minute standing still and change them over in game, losing your secondary weapon’s special ammo. In fact this is quite the oversight to the mode.

A further criticism, and this ties back in with the story and the lore, is the enemies, namely the amount of them. There are essentially five different races in the game: The Guardians, The Fallen, The Hive, The Vex and The Cabal. This really doesn’t help in progressing the already confusing narrative and lore. Which one came first? Who is the worst? Who is wiping out who? Why do they give a toss about The Traveler or Earth? It’s hinted that there were pre-human structures on Venus that were being investigated before the collapse. So a timeline of the universe as the story goes on gets sketchier and sketchier, and a race could possibly have been cut out if I’m honest.

You’ll also find a lot of parables in the enemies and the way to play against them that are incredibly reminiscent of Halo. The Hive are the new Flood, Cursed Thralls are suicide Grunts, The Vex take traits of the Flood’s Hive Mind, The Cabal’s Phalanx’s are defeated in the same way as Halo’s Jackal’s, a Cabal Centurion is a Hunter, and it seems that every race at every point are using Forerunner-esque ancient structures. The visual designs are great though. The enemies look very cool. I love the way the Vex Goblins feel like Terminators with their red eyes and keep coming whilst beheaded. And the shift of weak points does keep you on your toes, even if the AI doesn’t after a while. The Vex themselves also feel like Bungie looked at Halo 4’s Promethean units and sneakily thought that they could do a lot better, which they have.

The thing is with Destiny and the plan for the game is that it is fluid. It is going to be constantly in flux and added and expanded upon. The end game, despite some repetitive grinding, is intriguing and rewarding. The whole game is especially rewarding with friends in the same way that Halo’s co-op campaigns were. What Destiny lacks in compelling narrative and confusing lore is certainly compensated in the short term by its beauty, its size and its scope. In the long term, the expansions and extras may make more sense of the very in depth and expositional lore we have already and keep the gameplay just as entertaining and enthralling as the “just one more round” addictiveness they currently have. It is by no means perfect and as consumers, critics, hype revelers, gamers, lovers of Bungie; we expect a lot, possibly too much. But for what Destiny is, a successful cross over of massively online multiplayer, role playing and first person shooter genres set in a hybrid science fiction and fantasy universe with mind blowing graphics and atmosphere, it is the most ambitious console game we’ve seen, other than Grand Theft Auto V. Certainly that is something to experience and that is something for Bungie to be proud of.

Summary
What Bungie have set out to achieve has largely been successful. The game combines the Role Playing levelling element of fantasy MMO’s with its own take on online open worlds and blending in their expertise with art, audio, level design and first person shooters. Sadly that is at the cost of their normally excellent narrative style.

Good Points

– Visually spectacular
– Successfully fuses genres
– Amazing online experience

Bad Points

– Confusing narrative and set up
– Too many enemy races
– Team size limit too small

Why a 7.5?

The story isn’t great, but we’ve played a lot worse. The success is the fusion of genres, the ambition behind it and the beauty of its worlds. A triumph and an excellent showcase of what the new consoles can do, even if it is narratively lacking.

 

My Love Affair with Bungie

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If you are reading this then it means you aren’t playing Destiny at this moment. Which is fine. Maybe you’re at work and haven’t received it yet. Or maybe Bungie’s new outing and its first in the next-generation sphere isn’t for you. Which is also fine. I however need to confess my love for Bungie.

Don’t get me wrong, I am incredibly unbiased in my gaming critique. But Bungie have had me sold for a very long time. My experience started when I first got Halo. Back in those days I was a PC gamer, despite owning a PSX  for Smackdown games and a (new at the time) Playstation 2 for Grand Theft Auto 3. So my first Halo experience wasn’t with an Xbox… Actually I did play it on my friends Xbox so I guess it technically was, but I never actually owned an original Xbox. My first full on Halo experience was with the Gearbox ported PC edition. A game that still has people playing its multiplayer even now.

Halo as a PC experience was absolutely incredible. It wasn’t the most graphically superior game even then, but its atmospherics were the same as the Xbox version and were utterly enthralling. There were PC games even then that could trump Halo in many regards but something about it just stuck with me and many others I’m sure. It’s this dedication for scope and environment I think that make Bungie games great and, no offence to 343 Industries, makes the later Halo games/ports a little tepid. But I’ll come on to that.

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I have to admit that Halo 2 was a game, because of my lack of Xbox ownership, that took me 4 years to get around to playing. Several things get in the way of gaming when you’re just entering your 20s. You start social gaming a lot more and you don’t get as much time to play. So you sacrifice and dedicate yourself to one game. I had a good run playing the Grand Theft Auto games and the then excellent Pro Evolution Soccer series… The memories *sniff*. I was also dabbling in having meaningful relationships and doing all of that affection rubbish which meant my PC became my Laptop, became my girlfriends possession when visiting me and then became a Sims only zone. I enjoyed The Sims of course but Halo was still installed, hiding in programs menu waiting for us to sneak some playing time in together.

When I realised that the meaningful relationship endeavour was not only harder than gaming but that Microsoft’s offering had superior graphics to my Sims-top and the exclusive Halo 3, I pulled together some money and brought myself an Xbox 360. A full six months before Halo 3. Which meant that it was finally time to play Halo 2. It’s weird now, having seen and played the Halo 2 Anniversary edition, that I was incredibly impressed by how pretty the graphics were and how big the game was. Even for most PC games, and Half-Life 2 was out by this time, Halo 2 had so many different environments, two different story lines that came together, two different playable characters and a story that elevated the series far beyond its humble Science Fiction homage beginnings.

This is where I get to tip my hat to Bungie and explain why I have this love affair and why it was rekindled with Destiny, because they have directly decided which console I have brought for the last two generations. There is something about the feel of a Bungie game. It’s the perfectly designed and executed combination of easy to pick up controlling, ethereal music, absolutely beautiful concept art realised magnificently and imaginative storytelling not yet dictated by the Boxset/Netflix generation. Which is why the Anniversary editions of Halo feel so weird. They are great visually and are completely the same game as they were but the combination of them feels like Halo wearing a mask. It’s a bit like when your favourite footballer leaves your team for a rival and starts getting the goals. You like them still but it feels a bit sad.

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Which is why, when Halo 4 came out, I was sanguine. I had bid a fond and hard farewell to Halo with Halo Reach. I expected there to be more of course with the formation of 343 Industries but for my own personal journey with Bungie’s lovechild, it was over for me. And I was happy it was over. We left in a great place and we would always be friends. It was a time fondly remembered and will always bring me some glorious nostalgia when I reach into the shoebox of Halo memories. I wasn’t sure I was ready to let Halo back in to my life again. I enjoyed my brief flirtation with Halo 4. I gave it a lot of time and the same level of achievement hunting and completion I had given all of its elder siblings. But it wasn’t what it was. That spark that Bungie had lit for me wasn’t there and I knew it wouldn’t be. I wasn’t sad or disappointed. I’d enjoyed my time in the new Halo universe. But much like when your favourite bar changes ownership and gets renovated, I knew it wasn’t for me anymore.

So here I am with Destiny. I played the beta and it hit me. That feeling that I last got with Halo Reach was here with Destiny and I was excited. This was a new chapter, a new story but with the same love and affection that I had enjoyed before. That’s when I realised that my love affair wasn’t just with Halo. It was deeper and for the first time since being a PC and PS2 gamer, I fell in love with the way a studio designed a game rather than the game universe/franchise they create. I can describe the many different faucets that make this happen to me but the best way to describe it is simply thus: Fun.

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It’s fun to play! It really is as simple as that. Which is why my favourite Halo game isn’t anything directly related to Master Chief, it’s the excellent and vastly underrated Halo 3 ODST. Which is why when Halo Reach ended I was happy and I felt satisfied with the ending of this universe. Which is why when I think of multiplayer gaming I think of the private games I had with many friends of my own creation in the Forge, my version of Predator, and the good times we all had. Which is why my fondest memory of Halo is the 4 player co-op of the final level of Halo 3 where all of us kept crashing our Warthogs to annoy everyone else. And which is why, when I picked up the Destiny beta, I felt like I had picked up the fun where Reach had left it.

Destiny has just finished installing on my Playstation 4 now. I’ve been to friends houses to make sure they receive their deliveries of the game and console while they are at work. The extra content codes and season pass are all redeemed and I’ve made sure that I’ve had breakfast and coffee. Finally, I’ve come clean. I’ve opened my heart about my love for Bungie and now, for the first time in four years, I think I’m ready to fall in love all over again.

[author]

Destiny – By The Numbers

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So it’s almost upon us, that time we’ve been waiting for since E3 2013. The time when Destiny comes to us and the Traveller will occupy our time solidly for the next 3-4 months.

So how many of us are actually waiting for that? And what is the deal with the numbers behind it? Let’s have a little run down, shall we?

Publisher Activision have said, although developer Bungie have disagreed with this in part, that Destiny has cost up to $500 million to make. That would make it the most expensive video game ever developed. A record that is currently held by Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto V. Take Two and Rockstar reportedly spend around $115 million to develop the game and $150 million on marketing it, making a grand total of $265 million in total development cost. That figure would be nearly doubled if Activision’s account of costs are true. Bungie have said that the development costs went no where near that figure and that Activison would need to tell you how much they’ve spent on marketing. Although Take Two’s Q3 profits for 2013 thanks to GTA 5 were $1.62 billion so I’m sure they’re happy.

GTA 5 also shifted 32.5 million copies to make that figure. Destiny has already got a lot of pre-orders going for it, more than Watch_Dogs. The figures suggest that Destiny has beaten Watch_Dogs previous record of being the most pre ordered game for next-generation consoles and is the most Pre ordered new IP (intellectual property) in history. So how does this work out? Time for some maths:

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The Pre Order chart for the US (dated the week ending 23rd August) shows the Destiny pre-orders at that time. That was three weeks ago though so this could have grown quite exponentially. The next-generation console pre-orders total up to around 1,584,897 copies in the US alone. (we couldn’t find the EU figures unfortunately). All format pre-orders make that total 2,016,517 units. Now looking at Amazon.com, the prices of the two most readily available copies, the standard edition and limited edition, are priced respectively at $59.96 and $99.99 for all formats. Some numerical jiggery-pokery makes that an average price of $79.98. So how much have the pre-orders potentially made them? Well that would be a cool $161,281,029… That’s just over $161 million.

That figure is of course conjecture and not at all official. That does not however show any figures for the EU and other territories and obviously cannot legislate for how many people will actually buy it on the day of release either. Those records are currently held by Grand Theft Auto V.

The records that GTA 5 holds are incredible and it would take some monumental effort to beat them. The Guinness Book of Records shows that GTA 5 sold 11.21 million units in its first 24 hours. For Destiny to do that pretty much everyone that owns a PS4 would have to buy it and at least half of the people with an Xbox One if console sales figures are to be believed. GTA 5 made $815.7 million in the first 24 hours which is more than Marvel’s The Avengers and Guardians of The Galaxy films made in their opening weekends combined. Destiny has that potential but we’ll have to wait and see. The three records Destiny could potentially break at launch are: Best selling video game in 24 hours, Highest grossing video game in 24 hours and Highest grossing entertainment product in 24 hours.

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It is something that Bungie have done before however. When Halo 3 was released way back in 2007, it completely smashed then record holder Spider-Man 3 as the biggest US entertainment launch in history, making $170 million at launch. That also beat the final Harry Potter book as well and was helped by the 1.7 million pre-orders of the game.

The figures will be interesting given that, except for Watch_Dogs, this is the most high profile next generation release. It will dictate how many other games will go about their business in the years to come of this generation. I’m pretty sure the pre-order figures for the US also don’t include any console bundle pre-orders nor do they count the digital download platforms of Xbox Live and Playstation store. We’ll know for sure at the end of the week but one thing for certain is that the business end of Destiny will be talked about for as long and in as much detail as the game playing side will be.

[author]