Destiny, where have you been all this time?

I skipped out on Destiny when its was released for two reasons: Activision didn’t release it for the PC, and I didn’t want to buy an eight-gen console just yet. Sure, I could have played it on my Playstation 3, but I wasn’t optimistic about what the player-base on that platform would look like within a few months of its release. Not to mention that I had nothing but bad luck with Sony’s network: failed and timed-out connections were the norm for me. Granted, I didn’t have the best Internet connection, but Xbox Live was (for the most part) smooth and consistent, so the blame wasn’t entirely on my ISP.

So for two years I read about Destiny and followed its development, watching it improve from the lukewarm reception it received upon launch (which helped my decision to sit it out). Eventually, it seemed to turn in to the game it was promised to be, so when I finally got around to getting an Xbox One, it was one of the first games I picked up.

I’ve never been more excited to be late to a party.

I rolled an Awoken Hunter: an Awoken because he looked cool, a Hunter because it sounded the most shooty of all the classes. When you’re playing a shooter it’s more fun to shoot things than it is to stand there and soak up bullets or hang back and just kinda wave your hands about. Within minutes I was hooked. The controls are some of the tightest I’ve experienced in an FPS for any platform, the level design is custom-built for intense firefights, and the enemies are visually interesting and scary-smart (for the most part; Fallen Dregs are more than a little dumb).

Many players aren’t happy about the lore system in Destiny, with having to look up story entries on Bungie’s website and all, but I actually really like it. Having to read Grimoire cards outside of the game not only encourages me to do so (because who’s interested in story when there are things to shoot) but also keeps me connected to the game even when I’m not playing.  Plus, instead of having to sit through info dump after info dump, I’m trickle-fed hints of story here and there which reveal the mythology of the world little by little. Experiencing the narrative this way leads to some fascinating realizations, such as just how far into the future this game is truly set.

The sum of all this is that the game appears light on narrative, and that’s not an untrue statement when you consider the software doesn’t offer up much narrative content. What keeps me playing, then, is the same need to scratch the same itch in other MMORPGs: getting that sweet, sweet loot, which in this game can be a mixed bag. As with every RPG ever made, I get lots of junk, which I can instantly trash for in-game currency (glimmer). The glimmer you get for trashing gear is slight. While I appreciate that you don’t have to visit a vendor to convert armor and weapons into funds and parts, I’d rather put a legendary pair of boots up for auction and make more than 117 glimmer. It’s just too bad you can’t, because there’s no way to trade items with players and there’s not even an auction house. With this game being in its second year and a sequel on the horizon, I doubt we’ll see player-to-player sales and trading now, but my biggest gripe is actually with how the game treats item drops.

Like most RPGs of its kin, Destiny uses a color-coded rarity system for gear. Unlike similar games, enemies don’t drop gear directly. They drop items called “engrams,” which have to be decoded by a vendor before you receive a piece of gear. The color of the engram represents the maximum rarity level you might achieve, and its entirely possible you’ll only get crafting materials. While I’ve gotten, more or less, items that are of the same rarity as their decoded engram, I’ve also picked up an engram for legendary chest armor and gotten currency. A fair chunk of it, mind you, but not the high-level armor I was hoping for. The fact that you can gain reputation with numerous NPC factions and then gain access to higher-level gear through their representatives helps, but such gear can’t be bought with glimmer; it has to be purchased with “legendary marks,” which are far more rare without participating in high-level challenges, and advancing your reputation is an arduous process.

It took them the better part of two years, but I can fairly say that Bungie has streamlined the progression system sufficient that I don’t have to get into it in too much depth. It’s enough to know that your character level dictates what gear you can use, and your gear determines your “light level” which determines how capable your character is at conquering certain challenges. Of course, this being a shooter, it all comes down to player skill in the end.

I bought this game initially just to play with a friend, but I’ve invested many hours into it just on my own. It’s fun, has just the right amount of story delivered in just the right way as to not distract you from the game play,  and aside from one maddening design flaw is fairly close to presenting an ideal set of mechanics for an action-RPG game. It’s well worth getting into, even this late in its life cycle. Two character level boosts (one for max level and one for just over halfway there) certainly helps if you have friends you’d like to play with. It’s too bad you only have three character slots, but your character’s abilities are largely modular, being determined by their gear for the most part, so it’s possible to have several types for each class. You might as well roll one of each.

You can pick up the entire Destiny collection for the price of one new game right now. It will be $60 well spent.


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