Surfing in on a tsunami of hype is Destiny, the half-billion-dollar game which more or less recouped its budget on its first in the shops. But is it really, as weve been told, the very future of games made flesh, with its melding of the first-person shooter, RPG and MMO genres?
Your initial impressions of Destiny will be entirely shaped by your expectations of it at first, it certainly doesnt feel like something which is blindingly innovative. Indeed, it feels reassuringly familiar: like an update of Halo. Yet at the same time, it is massively ambitious, and after youve played it for many hours, you can begin to appreciate that it pushes boundaries. Its just that its structure, rather than its gameplay, is what breaks new ground.
However, if youre a first-person shooter fan, youll love it instantly. It looks lush, and feels super-smooth and magnificently fettled, as you would expect from Bungie and as a bonus, theres no discernible visual drop-off when you play it on the Xbox One compared to the PS4. Destiny kicks off with your resurrection on the surface of a post-apocalyptic Earth by your Ghost, a floating gizmo voiced by Peter Dinklage. After fighting through some aliens, you get to the Tower the last remaining safe space on Earth where youre recruited as a Guardian who must restore Earth to its former splendour (and reboot the giant globe called The Traveller which, a century previously, triggered a golden age in which humans colonised the rest of the Solar System).
After a few story missions on Earth, Destinys innovative structure begins to reveal itself. You can take a much more free-form approach to it than other first-person shooters, by picking different types of missions. As well as the story-advancing ones, there are Strikes, which are long, multi-stage missions with mini-bosses and big bosses and insist on you being part of a three-person Fireteam (which you can assemble from random people or your mates, as long as they are on the same console as you). Patrols are properly open-world affairs, in which you pick up side-missions from beacons left by other Guardians you can play those for as long as you want. Raids are six-person co-op missions in which the enemies are pretty fearsome, and are more reminiscent of an MMO than any other part of the game. The Crucible, meanwhile, is where the multiplayer resides, and you can dip into a spot of Control (where two teams try to dominate three areas), team deathmatch, pure deathmatch and so on whenever you want.
The ability to play what you want and when cleansing the palate with a restful Patrol, say, after a full-on half-hour spent pumping lead into one of the bullet-sponge Strike bosses is the first aspect of Destiny which leaves you feeling that it isnt just A.N. Other first-person shooter. And as you progress beyond level 8 or so, the RPG elements become a lot more noticeable. Destiny has been compared to Borderlands, the most obvious blueprint for an FPS-RPG mash-up, but its RPG side also has a big Diablo flavour to it, since all its levelling up and loot-collection is tightly focused on improving only the relevant attributes of your character. The more you use weapons, the more you upgrade them, and as you level up, your abilities improve markedly. The three classes Titan (the tank), Hunter (the nimble all-rounder) and the self-explanatory Warlock are much of a muchness, mainly differing in terms of their special ability. The Hunter, for example, has throwing knives and a powerful Golden Gun attack, which fires three shots but has limited range; the Titan, meanwhile, has a great ground-pound, and the Warlock has a single-shot energy attack. All three have slightly different double-jumps and grenade options, too, so picking your favourite class is key. But you have to get each to level 5 or so before you get a true impression of their attributes.
In terms of general gameplay, you soon learn its all about the headshots, which cause extra damage, trigger gloriously satisfying death-animations and help you level up quicker. Camping is counter-productive, since you need to pick up the ammo that enemies spew out when they die, and preserving your health by hiding when it gets perilously low is paramount. The diversity of the weapons-set is vital, as it lets you adapt to both your play-style and individual situations. Our personal favourite is the Scout Rifle, which is only semi-automatic but has a quick reload and packs a real punch.
The multiplayer is great, too: it keeps things pretty simple, giving everyone basic ammo at first, before Special and Heavy ammo drops occur later as sessions progress. You get points for spectacular kills and streaks, but nothing more tangible, which keeps things more accessible than the likes of CoD for those who arent exactly multiplay ninjas.
Overall, then, Destiny is wondrous to play, a true treat of an FPS, with a social and character development side that comes increasingly into play as you immerse yourself in it. But its far from perfect. The storyline disappoints: its grandiose and epic, for sure, but it takes itself embarrassingly seriously. It also lacks detail, acting more as a set-up for the planet-hopping which is key to the game frankly, though, its the least important aspect of Destiny.
Another problem is the lack of opportunity to communicate with other players, something you can only do when youre in a Fireteam with them and on a mission. That doesnt sit well with Destinys ambitions to incorporate an element of social networking and is something, you suspect, which will be addressed via updates. Its particularly irritating when you see other players in the course of a Story mission, but cant tell them to hang around for you when they move to the next pinch-point and you fancy a spot of loot-hunting.
Plus theres the vexed question of whether well end up playing it for months or years as if it were World Of Warcraft. Already, you see the odd random event (a mini-boss to kill, say) popping up as you go about your business, and Bungie is promising to add planets, missions and even new gameplay modes on a regular basis but, right now, theres nothing in it which makes you think youll still be playing it in six months time. However, its clever structure allows unlimited content to be dropped in seamlessly, so hopefully Bungie will make the most of that in order to keep us hooked. As Destiny stands, its great. But it isnt the (literal) game-changer we were led to believe it would be.