Destiny, a T-rated online shooter with a science-fiction theme, is probably best described as a cross between Halo and Borderlands.  The most interesting thing about it might be how seemingly little developer Bungie has tried to differentiate the experience from Halo (an incredibly popular game originally developed by Bungie). That might sound like a criticism, but the fact is that lots of people loved Halo and it makes sense for Bungie to stick to what they know they can do well. Lots of people liked Borderlands too; a multiplayer-oriented shooter with strong character progression makes for a very engaging and fun experience.

But don’t call Destiny a Borderlands clone. It’s much more serious in tone, for one thing, both in the storytelling and the visual design, and that makes it a much more beautiful game.  Where Borderlands goes for pure cartoony fun, Destiny is all surreal sci-fi realism.  With missions set on Earth, the Moon, Mars, Venus, and more, the game offers environments that are unfailingly impressive. This is the first game I’ve played that has caused a non-gamer observer to exclaim “It’s like real life!”  Of course, if you’re playing on a next-gen console (PlayStation 4 or Xbox One) it will be even prettier, but mostly the game’s beauty comes from just being beautifully designed rather than its raw graphics horsepower.  The concept art for this game is stunning.

Destiny sure is pretty.

Destiny sure is pretty.

Problematic Content & Difficulty

As far as problematic content goes, there’s nothing other than standard shooter stuff in this game,which is rated T (teen) for violence and animated blood (a white or black blood-like substance).  There are various guns and other weapons, including rocket launchers, and special powers that result in explosions. In the story missions, you’re just shooting aliens, although they are vaguely humanoid.  You shoot at other player-characters in PvP, obviously, but you’re all wearing full-body armor that obscures the face and it isn’t very graphic.

However, Destiny might be too difficult for some kids to play. It’s an MMO, so there are no difficulty settings.  Most of the missions are pretty easy, but the boss missions can be rather tough.  Of course, if the other people on your team are good they can carry weaker players pretty easily.  You can revive dead teammates, and even if you don’t you only stay dead for 30 seconds. But the game doesn’t always provide the ability to match you with strangers, and if you and your friends don’t have the same console you can’t play together (more on that later).

At this point, Destiny does not have proximity voice chat—in other words, you can’t walk up to other players in the game and start a conversation (unless they are already on your team), and you can’t hear what other players are saying in player vs. player (PvP) mode. For some people, this is a relief, and parents don’t have to worry about kids getting into conversations with strangers. But many players and critics think an expansion of player-matching and voice-chat capabilities are in order, so this could change.

The boss fights in Destiny are quite difficult.

The boss fights in Destiny are quite difficult.

The Story

The more serious tone does more for the visuals than it does for the story.  I was hoping Bungie could pull out a miracle here, but it does seem as though there are certain crippling limitations when it comes to writing the story for massively multiplayer online games (MMOs).

The Traveler is mysterious.

The Traveler is mysterious.

Good stories are hard to write if the main character has to be player-created—and therefore interchangeable.  Bungie has some experience with a faceless and mostly silent protagonist from years of designing Halo games, so I think that most of my limited enthusiasm about the story comes from the second problem of writing for an MMO: it can never end. Destiny, like all MMOs, is designed to continue for many years of expansions. As a result, it starts with a cool concept and then never really does much with it. Most of the missions involve fighting various threats to the Traveler, a kind of manmade moon-looking device that hangs out near humans and shares technology with them.  One of my biggest disappointments regarding Destiny’s story is that you never really get more information about exactly what the Traveler is, why it’s helping humanity, and why its enemies want to destroy it.  But maybe that will be tackled in later expansions.

The Gameplay

And, really, as with all MMOs, the story isn’t the point of Destiny. That’s for single-player games. Destiny is all about having fun with your friends, and there’s no denying that this game is a ton of fun.

In the first place it’s just a really well-designed shooter, but that’s nothing new. There are a ton of great shooters out there, and Bungie has made them before. Destiny adds some pizzazz to that foundation with the role-playing (RPG) elements. You can pick from one of three classes, each of which has special abilities.  A lot of the abilities are just a fun spin on classic shooter elements, such as different types of grenades or various upgrades to your melee attack, but some of them are fairly unique.  One class can jump up into the air and then come crashing back down for explosive area-of-effect damage. Two others have abilities that cause enemies they kill to explode.

And of course, like any RPG, Destiny allows you to get upgrades for your gear. This is one of the things that helps make Destiny as addictive as it is. Pretty much every time you complete one of Destiny’s relatively short missions (around 20-30 minutes, usually) you will earn a new piece of gear. Often, that’s enough incentive for me to do “just one more” mission.  MMOs truly are the potato chips of the gaming world.

Character creation options in Destiny.

Character creation options in Destiny.

But as much as I enjoy Destiny, I can’t stop thinking about how much more I’ll enjoy it if and when I manage to find other people to play it with. (You really need to play it with people; if your friends get ahead of you, that’s not so fun either.) And there is no cross-platform play between the next-generation and the older consoles; if you’re on PS4 and your friend is still on PS3, you can’t play together. Bungie didn’t want players on the next-gen consoles to have any perceived or real advantage, no matter how slight. There are, however, free upgrades being offered from the PS3 to the PS4 version and the Xbox 360 to the Xbox One version until January 15th, 2015.

If you do have friends who can play this game with you on your chosen platform, you can pretty much just skip this paragraph, but if not you should know: Bungie doesn’t make it super easy to play with strangers.  I can’t help but feel that they missed a real opportunity here to make dropping into cooperative missions with random players something that happens automatically if you so choose.  Instead, there is only co-op matchmaking for the big “defeat a boss” missions at the end of each planet’s story. The rest of the missions are effectively single player if you don’t have friends who have your same console and are available to play when you are. It’s a very well-designed shooter, so it is fun even when playing by yourself, but it’s twice as fun when playing with others.

Speaking of matchmaking, I’ve spent a lot of time addressing the story missions in this review, but I wish I had more to say about the player vs. player (PvP) mode other than that it’s just very good.  I’ve always been a big fan of Halo PvP, so I was ecstatic to find that Destiny’s competitive multiplayer is just as strong.  You don’t die quite as quickly as you do in games like Call of Duty or Battlefield, which have always felt a bit too fast paced to me, and the various class special abilities add just as much flavor to the PvP as they do to the story mode. The maps present a good variety of terrain types, from those with a lot of corridors and small rooms forcing you to fight in close quarters, to wide-open maps with ample opportunities for sniping and vehicle combat—and everything in between.  There is a decent variety of game modes, too: five in total for now, two of which are not strictly death-match-type games, though you do still get points for kills.

One of the best parts of Destiny is its player-versus-player mode.

Destiny player-versus-player mode is fun.

The Takeaway

Between the PvP and the endgame co-op content, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Destiny manages to maintain a good-sized player base for years to come. It might not really do anything all that new or innovative, but it’s fun to play, mostly well balanced in terms of difficulty, and very pretty to look at. Just make sure to coordinate with your friends on which console you buy it for, because it would be a real shame to miss out on the co-op for logistics reasons.  But even if you don’t have anyone to play it with, I would still get Destiny if you enjoy shooters and especially if you enjoyed any of the games in the Halo series.

Besides, this is a game in which you can play as an alien space wizard.  If that isn’t a selling point, I don’t know what is.

This article was written by

Chris Jaech is a voice-over actor and writer. His voice-over work is featured in HER Interactive's video game Nancy Drew: The Silent Spy. He lives in Seattle.