Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Rise And Fall Of A Great Video Game: Destiny: The Collection

The Good: Graphics, Playability, Story/concept
The Bad: Story becomes dependent upon multiplayer mode
The Basics: Destiny begins as a compelling solo video game that decends into an unfortunate social exercise that makes it impossible to finish as one began it.

I have, only as I reached middle age, gotten into playing video games. I found I actually enjoy the reinforcement of little goals and playing games that have intriguing stories and good graphics. I never would have guessed that I would have gotten into first-person shooter games, but when the stories are interesting, I find I can get captivated by them. While going through my year of playing Star Wars: Battlefront (reviewed here!), one of my real-life friends recommended that I try Destiny. As Star Wars Battlefront became more of a repetitive exercise for me, I decided to take her advice and my wife picked me up Destiny: The Complete Collection.

I got Destiny: The Complete Collection for the Playstation 4 (reviewed here!) and I have been playing it for the past nine months on that system.


At its core, Destiny is a first-person shooter game in a science fiction warfare setting. The game is broken into three essential modes: Story, Co-operative missions, and player vs. player combat.

The story mode is a single-player experience that has the player portraying a Guardian, one of the last surviving people in the solar system tasked with protecting the remaining human population. The player makes a journey to Earth, the moon, Mars, Venus, and a massive alien ship embedded in Saturn's rings (the Dreadnaught) to fight little rogue aliens (The Fallen), massive war robots (the Cabal), mindless alien drones (the Vex), a race of killer humanoid insects (the Hive) and a sinister race invading the solar system that absorbs entities from all those races and makes them into shadow warriors (The Taken). In the main story mode, the player explores the remaining habitable portions of Earth and its colonies within the solar system to protect the Visitor and the remaining humans from the invading forces, while collecting artifacts and weapons to level up.

The multiplayer mode allows players to team up to do specific missions that involve bigger bosses than one player could reasonably handle. Players work together to perform complicated story missions that cannot be done by one player and do mini-strikes that allow them to work together in variations of other story adventures. There is also a very basic combat experience where the team of players combats enemies in an arena setting as part of the expanded training.

Unfortunately, this is where Destiny goes horribly wrong. Destiny begins as a single-player game that allows players to move through the world at their own pace, explore aspects of the setting that interest them and accomplish goals in their own desired order. Where I wrote "allows" at the top of the paragraph above, the terminology was imprecise; "compels" is a far more accurate word. Players begin the game and can make the journey as they see fit and take their time. But, at the end of every major map, there comes a point where the player cannot play on their own. Bungie, the makers of Destiny, force players to connect with other players and form a six-person Fireteam to accomplish important story points like killing every major Big Bad. It's like Bungie is the stereotypical doting parent, concerned that their kid is playing too many video games and forces playdates with other children. As a forty year-old, that's pretty shitty to me.

The multiplayer story modes are not labeled and are not intuitive. So, players who come to the game on their own will suddenly get to an important story point (like killing the leader of the Hive or eliminating the Taken King) and find themselves locked out of progressing . . . not through any clear mechanic, but rather taking the next labeled step in the game and finding it impossible to progress. So, for example, after spending hours and hours trying to get to more than three checkpoints on "Crota's End" (called Lanterns) without being blown up, swarmed by so many Hive that no single combination of weapons can thin the herd enough to survive or fall down pits in the darkness, players who have started the game on their own are likely to just give up.

But, alas, to continue playing the game where the single player was the hero in their own story, players must log onto Bungie's message boards on the internet, find a fireteam and join it. I came to Destiny late - the game was released at least two years prior to me even hearing about it - and people who continued to play the multiplayer story modes have, generally, become an intolerant bunch. Whatever process of discovery existed in the early days of Destiny gameplay by which players figured out what the team members had to do in each of the forced team play story adventures - where people had to stand, when they had to move, what order to accomplish things in, etc. - has long since passed. As a result, players who play the multiplayer story modes are (by a vast majority) made up of people who know what they are doing and have very specific goals to accomplish with continuing to play those modes. As a population, as a player community, they are not overly tolerant of newbies or those who have different skill sets. So, for example, I am not a professional player and one of the aspects of gameplay that I tend to have difficulty with jumping. I am not a strong jumper in video games. So, on a multiplayer mission that requires all of the players to cross a massive chasm within the Dreadnaught while avoiding getting knocked into said chasm through well-timed jumps . . . I am a clear liability to the team. One need not possess much imagination to guess how a team of five players who are ready to confront a Big Bad might react to being held up for an hour while the sixth player attempts to jump across a chasm that everyone else has already crossed.

This style of gameplay is incredibly frustrating for new players and players who are not social. The most common result is that the Fireteam leader, fed up with the team's weak link, will simply jettison them from the game. So, a player might begin one of the story missions they require to advance and conclude a level, but will end up entirely at the mercy of other players and their impatience. It's a sucky way to design a game and it is not at all player friendly. Any game that requires solo players to rely upon the kindness of strangers and live up to their standards to conclude the game is poorly designed. It's a system that invites bullying, so it was utterly unsurprising to me as a non-professional player that I would have numerous portions of gameplay where I was unable to complete the story and would be made to feel terrible by other players who accepted my presence on a team for a portion of the story's gameplay, but then threw me off the team because I was not as good as the rest of the team.

Emotionally, the only real recourse a player has is in the player vs. player mode. In the player vs. player mode, players either join a randomly assigned team or assemble a team of like-minded murderers and they go out to fight in various settings against other players. The Player Vs. Player modes range from games where the players must hold control points to "ignite a rift" using a "spark" (it's essentially Capture The Flag with massive casualties when the flag is destroyed) to free-for-all combat between players.

At the end of virtually every mission or round of combat, players are awarded points, artifacts, and/or weapons and armor to level up their character.


To its credit, Destiny has a pretty cool story. Opening in the present day, astronauts reach Mars. There, they uncover and encounter the Traveler, a massive satellite that reinvigorates and inspires humanity. Humans spread out throughout the solar system and enter a new golden age. After eons of expansion, The Traveler's enemy finds it and virtually wipes out humanity.

The solar system is overrun by Taken, Vex, Cabal, Hive and Taken forces. But, one day, the little mechanical device known as a Ghost resurrects The Guardian (the player) and helps them to escape the Fallen-infested Cosmodrome. The Guardian is then reunited with the leaders of Earth, who work with the Traveler to retake the solar system.

Game Progression

The main story of Destiny has pretty reasonable progression. The player starts on a map and, while they might explore almost any part of it, there is a pretty linear sense of movement throughout the story. When a player encounters a story node along their current plotline, they begin a well-contained mission, like having to climb up one of the remaining rockets on Earth to recover computer codes for one of the surviving military leaders or bring the Queen in the Rift the head of one of her enemies in order to prove loyalty and competence to her.

In general, the story mode follows a linear progression from Earth to the moon to the planets Venus and Mars before the solar system is invaded by the Taken out near Saturn.

That said, Destiny, at least in the form of The Complete Collection, is severely weakened in its progression by its open format. Destiny has "social areas," where players go to store excess weapons, decrypt found blueprints into weapons and armor and meet with non-player characters who assign missions and goals. Unfortunately, there is no linear progression to the types of missions or goals that the non-player characters give. So, for example, a player who meets with the Titan Leader Zavala and sees that there are missions he has to help one level up might accept them . . . without any indication that a low player-level character cannot possibly accomplish, much less enter, them. So, for example, Zavala has goals pertaining to Nightfall Strikes that a Level 1 player might take on . . . not knowing that Nightfall Strikes are not accessible to anything but the highest-level players. In a similar vein, players might easily pick up weapons from the weaponsmith that are well above their player level to use or involve targets the player does not yet have access to (like a weapon that is to be used exclusively against the Cabal before player has access to the Mars map). Going through the game a second time as a different type of character, I was instantly miffed that in the first group of goals my character was given, two required high-level characters, requiring me to either hold the quests for considerable time before I could attempt them or forcing me to abandon/decline them.

Similarly, Destiny goals are often neither intuitive nor self-explanatory. So, for example, one is given a speeder to move around on and the mechanic in the Last City can assign the players goals. I have had a goal of "Overcharge 3 Reached." I have no idea what "Overcharge 3" is. I've tried many different things; I could find the answer easily enough by looking it up, but the game should not require players to go to a completely external source just to learn about the goals they are supposed to accomplish!

That said, weapons and armor upgrades are entirely intuitive and well-executed. Players are given a lot of direction at the game's outset for how to acquire and upgrade weapons and armor, so as the game progresses, that becomes intuitive pretty fast. . . as does collecting resources so one has the continual ability to upgrade one's weapons and armor.


The effects in Destiny are homogeneously amazing. The visuals for the environments look fantastic and the animation is usually clean and flows exceptionally well. Destiny is remarkably glitch-free on the visual effects and it creats an impressive setting that looks great.

As an older player, it is worth noting that while the speed of the graphics are good and the rendering of adversaries is excellent, the scope, scale and lighting are frequently problematic. To see and, usually, to aim, I almost constantly had to engage the scope on whatever weapon I was using. This has the unfortunate consequence of removing the radar, which informs players where the enemies and goals are! That said, Destiny has superior directional information. Enemies in Destiny can shoot players from a decent distance, outside the effective radar range; the on-screen graphics that indicate where a player is being hit from attacks are excellent.

Arguably the most impressive effect in Destiny is the quality of the voice acting. Bungie employed genre favorite actors like Nathan Fillion, Gina Torres, Lance Reddick, Erick Avari and Bill Nighy to voice non-player characters who pop up during the movie portions of the game (Peter Dinklage was originally in the game, but apparently got edited out when the expansions began). The actors create distinctive characters for the Ghost and the leaders of the surviving factions within the Last City, making for an exciting sense of flow and continuity through the different story elements.


Destiny was, at least until today when Destiny 2 was officially released, constantly adding challenges, weapons and events to Destiny, so the game appears to have incredible replayability. As well, there are three different styles of character a player may create - Titan (essentially brute soldiers), Hunters (more mobile and precise operatives, like bounty hunters) and Warlocks (essentially magic-users) - that each have different strengths, capabilities and forms of attack. As a result, players may play through the story portion of the game multiple times and have very different experiences with each run through. Going back through the game, for example, reminded me of one of the irksome aspects of the environment that allows multiple people to be playing in the same spot at the same time; when one is playing their own personal mission, they might have specific goals, like "make ten headshots" and when other players are playing around you, they might have similar goals. In areas where there are very few enemies, the game gets bogged down by several people all trying to kill the same enemies to accomplish their goals!

The player vs. player portion of the game changes with each and every attempt and events like the Iron Banner insure that there is always something for a Destiny player to do in the game environment!


Destiny is an excellent idea for a video game for those who want a role-play first person shooter game. Unfortunately, the forced community quality of it - the way the game abruptly transitions from a solo-player game to one that absolutely forces player interaction without any way to complete the story or have the full player experience without having to join an online community and interact with other people is a serious detraction to casual players and solo players alike and ruins the overall experience of Destiny.

For other game reviews, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
Injustice: Gods Among Us Ultimate Edition
Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham
Middle Earth: Shadow Of Mordor


For other video game reviews, please check out my index page on the subject by visiting my Software Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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